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).
In 2005, U2’s Vertigo Tour came to New York and wowed audiences, and in February 2006 it was time for another Irish band to do the same. The Turloughmore Ceili Band took their tour to America, where they played a number of ceilis and concerts in the northeast region. The tour began in Philadelphia on the weekend of February 10th, but was soon disrupted by a severe snow storm that caused the cancellation of some events. This put a damper on things, but hours of snowball fights eased the loss of gigs.
In New York, 26 inches of snow fell on Sunday, but then unusually mild weather thawed the snow quickly, assuring a big turnout at the Wednesday night ceili. A fair amount of snow having melted away, parking was better in the area, which was very important for our night. Turloughmore had only one night in New York, so people traveled as far as seventy miles to hear and dance to the great ceili band from Co Clare.
They were booked to play at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers, which is home to the Kerrymen’s Association of New York. After many years of renting halls for their meetings and county activities, they purchased a run-down building, which was rebuilt voluntarily and became the permanent home for the Kerrymen’s Association. The renovated hall is just a few years old, a credit to the people of Kerry and is one of the most sought after venues for ceilis.
The wait was over to hear Turloughmore and the set dancers took to the floor. The ceili opened with the Caledonian Set. How could the night have started with anything else? The band was in excellent form, despite having only seven of its members able to make the trip. People went crazy upon hearing the first few reels and this whetted their appetites for the night ahead. The first half of the night was over before you knew it and it was time for tea and homemade bread, but given the choice, people would not be wasting time on cups of tea when there was such great music to be enjoyed.
Even though Turloughmore had never played in this area, it seemed as if they were here before. People had heard cuts from their new CD Seven Streams on WFUV, a local college radio station that airs traditional Irish music every week. As the second half of the ceili started, they invited local musician Denis O’Driscoll, who was helping with the sound for the night, to take control of the keyboard, and proceeded to play a blistering Plain Set. Despite the fact that it was a weeknight, the turnout was incredible and there was no sign of anybody leaving until the last note of music was played.
Although the ending time was near and it didn’t seem right that the night should already be over, I did inform everybody that Turloughmore would be back again. This was definitely one of the highlights of their tour and left the band with soaring spirits as they headed for New Hampshire the next morning. They returned to the area by the weekend for a whirlwind series of workshops, sessions and house concerts, with a final ceili in Fairfield, Connecticut, on Sunday evening.
Thanks to all the people who braved the leftovers of the bad weather to make it a great night. It’s a night that will be talked about for a very long time, it’s a night that will be remembered, one of the best nights in New York.
Fergal O'Halloran, Bronx, New York
St Patrick’s Day hit Canberra with a vengeance this year, particularly as it was on a Friday, the first day of a long weekend with Canberra Day on the Monday. Being Irish in another country is a time to break out your brightest green clothing and be seen in it. Being Irish is interpreted widely across the population, so for example, a brief visit to my local hardware store (the size of two aircraft hangars!) saw every salesperson there with their hair painted green or their face with small shamrocks. Young people leaving their offices at lunchtime to enjoy the sunshine were seen in every hue and colour of green.
Most people, of course, use this as an excuse to drink Guinness or their favourite tipple enjoyed in moderation. Our mission as set dancers, though, is to get people up and dancing and we managed this to some degree with a dance in the centre of Canberra in Garema Place. Franklin B Paverty was playing, a local band that plays Irish-influenced music mostly for Australian bush dancing—great polkas and jigs, no reels!
In amongst the crowd we had about eighteen set dancers, so we had two sets to dance a very nice North Kerry Set and then between step dance demonstrations we did the slowest Ballyvourney Jig I’ve ever danced! Frustrated at not being able to dance at least one reel, Martin dashed off to the car and retrieved our CD of P J Hernon and Co and we did a couple of figures of the Clare Lancers—a ‘reel’ crowd pleaser.
We have a long way to go in educating the general public about the difference between step dancing and set dancing but everyone there enjoyed the opportunity to hear some music and watch and join in the dancing.
Nora Stewart, Kaleen, ACT, Australia
On Friday January 13th we lost a good friend who was very dedicated to many facets of Irish culture, Peter Daly from Kiskeam, Co Cork.
Peter died tragically in an accident on his farm. He is survived by his wife Mairéad and four young children. As well as being a dedicated husband and father, Peter was also a model farmer and businessman and could be described as an inspiration to many people.
He was a prominent member of the Kiskeam GAA and captained the 1971 team who went on to win the Examiner Cup. Peter had only just recently sponsored the minor team with a new set of jerseys.
Peter was also chairman of the development committee which secured major funding and developed the village to its present high standard. He was very proud of Kiskeam, its people, and the area’s traditional music and dance.
Peter had a passion for Irish music and set dancing and he would travel to festivals and sessions all over the country. He was a well known face in Miltown Malbay for the annual Willie Clancy festival which was his favourite. Peter enjoyed traditional sessions and meeting the musicians and dancers. He was a great supporter and promoter of our local Rambling House in Boherbue for many years.
Peter was very proud of Sliabh Luacra music and dance, and with this in mind he masterminded the Maurice O’Keeffe festival in Kiskeam which is now in its fifth year and going from strength to strength.
Peter will always be an inspiration and will always be in our thoughts and prayers. Again, we convey our deepest sympathy to his wife Mairéad and family.
“An dheis de go raibh a h’anam dilis.”
Mike Fleming, Boherbue, Co Cork
When you dance,
I can see your soul,
Shining through your face.
When you dance,
The world’s not sad,
For joy has taken its place.
When you dance,
For they can’t take a part of you home.
When you dance,
Your soul is free,
And your imagination roams.
When you dance,
The fire at your feet,
Reflects in your eyes.
When you dance,
The laws of nature,
You seem to defy.
When you dance,
My heart gets found and full,
Because when you dance,
I feel myself start to let go.
Lauren Fulmore, Hampstead, New Hampshire
Lauren is a twelve-year-old girl who was inspired to write her poem after watching her neighbour Cynthia Neale dance at a ceili in Cynthia’s home in January.
Please don’t get me wrong, I never believed in drinking and dancing. Otherwise you have the cops asking dancers to pull over in the middle of the Newport Set to talk to them about an offence they just committed. But to address Matt Cunningham’s question, how do we get the younger set going to ceilis? I think one thing we could do is to start in the pubs where there is set dancing already, such as O’Shea’s Merchant in Dublin, Munroe’s in Galway, Dolan’s in the Dock Road in Limerick. Many of the people there love to see it. Some like to try it. There we can tell them where and when the classes are on. They are then not daunted by the older age group when they go to the community hall. Yet it’s great that we can dance till we’re past it. It would be great also if we can keep the demon drink out of ceili. While I enjoy a drink I need ceili nights like a lot of people. Ireland needs an enjoyable but non-drink scene.With the demise of nightclub, ceili could be the very spot.
Eoin Hughes, Westport, Co Mayo
Thanks from the ShindigDear Bill,
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended this year’s Shindig in Tralee. Once again it was a great success.
A special thank you to Pat Murphy, Peter Hanrahan and Róisín Ní Mhainín who each taught excellent workshops.
We would like to say a big thank you to all the bands, the Glenside, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band and also to Donncha Lynch and Caitlín Ní Bheaglaoich and the other musicians, story tellers and singers who joined in for the great Shindig sessions that went on ’til five in the morning again this year.
Thanks to everyone who travelled long distances from home and abroad. It was great to see people from Switzerland, Germany, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, America and the UK putting the special effort in to attend.
We got great feedback about the Brandon Hotel, so we would also like to thank all the Brandon staff for going that extra mile during our weekend to make sure everybody was happy, well fed and comfortable during the weekend.
Thank you to Joan Pollard Carew and Bill Lynch of the Set Dancing News.
We’re looking forward to seeing you all again. Our dates for the Shindig 2007 are 19th, 20th and 21st January. I have posted some photos taken during the Shindig 2006 on my web site and I will be adding more over the coming weeks so if anybody wishes they can have a look at www.shindigtralee.com.
Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin, Tralee, Co Kerry
Sorry to have missed you this year during your visit to these parts. By all accounts, you had a marvelous time. I enjoyed reading your articles and was glad you made a stop at the New York Irish Center’s Christmas céilí.
It was a pleasure for me to dance at both the January and February céilithe at this new location. As it’s being discovered, numbers of dancers increase each month.
You’re right too about the welcoming atmosphere. Maureen Donachie and Lisa Farber, co-chairs of the Úll Mór CCÉ céilí deserve comhghairdeas for their excellent planning and warm fáilte. The powerful lively music of Ceol Na gCroí Céilí Band will play no small part in the continued success of the Úll Mór CCÉ monthly céilí.
Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey
Fair play to MildredDear Bill,
Please thank Mildred Beirne in your set dancing magazine from the Leicester set dancers for her workshop weekend.
Mildred Beirne’s return to Leicester, England, for the January 2006 workshop was eagerly awaited by the Leicester group and they weren’t disappointed. Mildred gave her time and energy to get everyone involved toe tapping. On the Saturday afternoon with five sets on the floor, the atmosphere was electrifying while learning the Ballycroy Set. Mildred kept her teaching at an enjoyable pace all over the weekend, and fair play to her, we have been able to dance the Ballycroy Set and Monaghan Set with no bother at all at our regular Sunday session this past month.
A hall full of energetic dancers danced the night away at the ceili on the Saturday night to the prolific music supplied by Wraggle Taggle Ceili Band from London.
Thanks to Mildred for her expertise from all who attended the weekend. Thanks from the Leicester group to their dancing friends from the Midlands and London and to the friends they made from Ireland for their support for the weekend.
Annie Gallagher, Leicester, England
They played out of their skinsDear Bill,
I would be grateful if you could publish this letter for me. We have just had our first proper workshop weekend organised by the Caledonian Set Dance Club here in Manchester.
I would like to thank our many friends who travelled to support us. They came from Draperstown, Belfast, Tipperary, Roscommon, Meath as well as Mayo. They came from the west country, London and all over the UK.
We had the Emerald Ceili Band who played out of their skins for all three ceilis. We had standing room only for the Saturday workshop with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. What wonderful teachers!
We all enjoyed a wonderful weekend of dancing and craic. It was Wednesday morning before I got the feelings back in my tired legs. We are working on the line up for next year and we are encouraged by the success of first one.
Many thanks to you Bill for your help in promoting this weekend. We hope you will be able to join us next year with your camera.
Sincere thanks to all,
Breffni O'Brien, Manchester, England
Every four years in Germany the National Garden Show is held in a city or large town. In 2005 Munich opened the show on a 150 hectare (370 acre) site which was visited by keen gardeners from across the country. The site included a stage where cultural events were presented, one of which was the Day of a 1000 Dances in September when 350 dancers and musicians showed dances from around the world, including Ireland.
Nobody expected that the 18th of September would turn out to be such a cold day. This did not stop the set dancers though. Their passionate performances kept them as well as their audience warm. On the Day of a 1000 Dances, two groups, the Munich and the Augsburg set dance clubs known as The Irish Setters and An Ciorcal, danced for about one hour and showed the crowded audience how much fun Irish set dancing was. They were accompanied by the ten musicians of the Augsburg Irish folk group Celtic Ceilidh.
With sets such as the Clare Lancers, Melleray Lancers, Mazurka and Williamstown, the dancers inspired their audience. In between dances the musicians presented Irish songs making the audience smile at their humorous contents or letting them dream away with the poetry conveyed in them. In a nutshell, a piece of Ireland came alive in Germany. Everybody agreed: don’t worry about the rehearsals and excitement before the event. It was a perfect opportunity to get in contact with other ‘Ireland addicts,’ it was worthwhile and, above all, it was great fun!
Sabine Surholt, Augsburg, Germany
If you’d like to see the set dancing show with a cast of 190 Clare kids, Hell for Leather, book your tickets soon. After two performances at Easter in the Glór Theatre in Ennis, the show reappears in the summer at a farewell performance in the Helix Theatre in Dublin on July 20th. Tickets for the Glór shows are in short supply and previous shows there, most recently in January, have sold out. The dancers are hoping to repeat their success in Dublin and are calling on their fans in Clare and elsewhere to encourage friends and family in the big city to support the performance and help fill the venue’s 1300 seats. Further support for the Dublin show will come from four fundraising ceilis taking place in the first week of July in Mullagh and Quilty, Co Clare—see the event listings for details.
The latest DVD of the show, Hell for Leather Tour ’06, will be released on April 13th to coincide with the first of the Easter shows in Glór, where it was recorded in January. This is their fourth DVD, and while all of them capture the performance, each disk is different and an improvement on the last. There are entertaining new pieces in the new one, including a hurling dance with the kids all carrying hurleys and comic songs about dancing by three young lads in wigs and dresses. Probably everyone’s favourite piece is the brush dance performed by the very youngest dancers; there are now seven of them doing it. The choreographed set formations are new and improved but with the same inventiveness and joy. The most fascinating part of the DVD comes at the end when the kids are interviewed about Hell for Leather and what it has meant to them. All agree it has been a worthwhile experience.
After the farewell show in the Helix, producer John Fennell plans to take a break for a while. The cast has been together for three years and they have achieved a lot in that time despite the many challenges of organising performances with so many children. John expects a break of at least twelve months, though he’s leaving his options open for the future. Hell for Leather fans will certainly want to see more of the show in future.
Connemara sean nós jig contest winner
The fifth annual Chóilín Seáin Dharach sean nós dance contest held in January in Rosmuc, Co Galway, was won by Brian Cunningham, age 20 from Cashel, Co Galway. Brian won the junior version of the contest in 2003 and has also won the national Oireachtas junior competition. He performs regularly at Teach Cheoil in Renvyle and at traditional ceili events in Roundstone during the summer months. He and his sister Irene have also toured with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. The photograph left shows Brian’s youngest sister and brother, Elaine and Michael, dancing their own sean nós routine after the contest had finished.
Second place went to Patricia Ní Fhatharta from Rossaveel who came first last year. One of the competitors was Alicia Guinn who travelled from Seattle, Washington, to participate. She began sean nós dancing as a student in Galway three years ago. Marie Philbin, a well-known Galway dance teacher, served as adjudicator and music was by accordion champion Darach Mac Mathúna, from Rath Cairn, Co Meath.
The Chóilín Seáin Dharach contest, named after a local dancer, is unique as the dancers perform only to jigs and wear ordinary footwear to preserve the style of dance which is unique to this part of Connemara. The weekend also includes ceilis, sessions and workshops and was officially opened by Éamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs.
Your editor spent Christmas in the USA and visited five ceilis from New York to Washington DC.
Travelling north out of the New York City area for half an hour, the dense urban landscape gave way to rolling wooded hills and a lighter sprinkling of older houses. My gracious hosts and I arrived at the beautiful hall of the Reformed Church of Clarkstown in West Nyack, New York, for the monthly Pearl River Ceili on Friday, December 17th. It used to be held in the town of Pearl River, and even though they've moved venues a few times since then, theept the name, perhause sounds better than calling it the West Nyacine a nicer venue than this church hall, with a lovely timbered floor and ceiling, good lighting, big windows which would be lovely for an afternoon ceili, a modest stage and a tree and other decorations for Christmas. At the back there was a cheery red and white striped 'café' awning over the opening to the kitchen. Folks were helping themselves to DIY tea (standard or decaffeinated bags available) from the beginning, though the goodies table remained off-limits and under cover until the half-time break.
We each staked out one of the plastic garden chairs around the hall, though they were in short supply by the time everyone arrived. A list of thirteen dances was passed around and posted; I was looking forward to doing eleven sets, a waltz and the Two-hand Reel in four hours. You'd rarely manage that much dancing in the ceilis back in Ireland. On stage was the Green Gates Ceili Band led by Eileen Goodman on piano accordion with guest fiddler Mike Brady originally from east Clare. That Two-hand Reel opened the dancing and gave the band and dancers a chance to warm up before the Sliabh Luachra Set.
The dancers were all very organised. The band had only to announce the set and begin playing a minute or two later. The sets formed and filled themselves with no need for anyone on stage to urge out one last dancer or couple to complete a set. The energetic music kept the festive atmosphere alive for the full four hours, minus the leisurely break when the table of cakes and cookies was revealed to everyone's delight. After the break one of the sets we danced was the Labasheeda, the only one which was called. One of the happiest faces of the night was that of an eighty-year-old woman who recently discovered set dancing and was up for every set, dancing the gent or lady. I know how she feels too, as I was 39 when I started dancing and I'm still trying to make up for lost time. The ceili ended a few sets short of the eleven on the programme, but there were no complaints - we were all too satisfied with what we'd danced.
At the end of the ceili I had a few words with Dan Dennehy, one of the club's organisers, who told me their secret for running ceilis. The Pearl River Ceilis are actually run by two separate committees, one of which works on the night while the other is free to enjoy the dancing like the rest of us. They then swap places for the next ceili, a sensible system which makes for a very well-run and enjoyable ceili in a superb venue.
From the leafy suburbs to the gritty city, my next ceili was at the New York Irish Center, a three-storey red brick building in a seemingly forgotten corner of Long Island City, Queens. It was opened last March as New York City's first Irish centre and serves as a social focus for the Irish of the city and surrounding area. The building was purchased for the community by four anonymous Irish businessmen and has been refurbished by volunteer labour. The activities already underway there include a senior lunch club, card nights, music lessons, and on two Saturdays a month there's set dancing. I attended the first ceili arranged there by the Ull Mór (Big Apple) branch of Comhaltas on Saturday, December 18.
My journey to the centre was a whirlwind tour around the city with unexpected sights and streets popping up around every corner. My generous hosts were also on their first visit here and stopped a couple of times to ask for directions from the locals, who were most cheerful and helpful. There was rejoicing when we finally found the centre, which was part of a little terrace of buildings surrounded on all sides by big streets. An enormous sunken toll plaza blazing with street lights was the most impressive vision around the back.
The centre itself was modest, two shop fronts at street level and the two floors above. We entered the one which was brightly lit inside behind a full size window; this was our ceili venue and the only sign of life on the street. Inside was a homely little space with a newly sanded timber floor discovered deep under layers of carpet and other flooring, the original pressed-tin ceiling, the old pipes of a fire-fighting sprinkler system, exposed brick walls and two columns keeping the upper floors in their place. A warm welcome was offered to ourselves and to every visitor through the door. As well as the dancers, a few curious folks came along to see what it was all about.
A long list of dances was posted, beginning again with the Two-hand Reel, but even if Johnny Reidy himself had been magically transported here to play for us, we'd never fit all those sets in the time available! Still, we managed nearly all of them thanks to the excellent music of Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band. They're a five-piece band with four new members since I last saw them. Heading them up now is the virtuoso box player James Keane, originally from Dublin but in America for close to forty years, and brother to Chieftains fiddler Sean Keane. The music was good before the break, and the nourishment did the band well because they outdid themselves afterward. Along with cakes, cookies and candy, the consumables during the break featured a pile of sandwiches that even Father Ted's housekeeper Mrs Doyle would have been proud of.
The crowd was small because of competition from at least two other ceilis, but it was a mighty night. It felt like a private party, thanks to the intimate venue, relaxed atmosphere and friendly participants. While we were dancing I was pleased to see that the big street windows fogged up and kept our activities hidden from the outside world, but then there were no passers-by out there anyway. There was a tribute paid to Maureen Donachie, the organiser of tonight's ceili, when Linda Hickman, the band's flute player, played a jig she composed especially for her. By the end of the night, the smiling faces of all the dancers who enjoyed themselves to the full made a further tribute to her work.
I was ninety minutes early to my next ceili, thanks to my still gracious hosts who came early to lend a hand setting up. I was enlisted to help move tables and chairs, spread red and green tablecloths and hang Christmas lights. We were helping Mike and Terry Rafferty get ready for a ceili in the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Hall in Bogota, New Jersey, on Sunday afternoon, December 19th. They run these monthly ceilis on behalf of their branch of Comhaltas, which is named after Mike, a veteran flute player originally from Ballinakill, Co Galway, who left for the USA in 1949. They filled and put on two huge boilers to keep us in tea all evening, decorated the tables with plastic vases of simulated holly, and set up a spread of cakes, cookies and candy which became larger as each dancer through the door dropped off a contribution.
The dance programme for the afternoon consisted of eleven sets, plus the standard opening Two-hand Reel and a waltz. I was pleased to see a few rarities, like the Skibbereen and South Galway and was curious about one called the Mystery Set just before the half time break. Well, it was no mystery to those of us who were there in time for John Sindt's workshop. John taught us the set in the hour before the ceili and when it was time for the Mystery Set we danced it again. As well as teaching set dancing, John is also well-known in musical circles for his handmade tin whistles which are said by some to be the best in the world.
Music was by Mike Rafferty and three of his friends - Eileen Goodman on piano accordion, whom I'd heard on Friday with the Green Gates Ceili Band, John Kennedy on button accordion and Gerry Kennedy on bodhran. The dancing moved well and we managed to dance through ten of the eleven sets - the Skibbereen will have to wait for another ceili. While dancing sets during the second half I was amazed to see the vases, decorations, tablecloths chairs and the rest disappear! Some of the dancers were taking down everything we'd put up before the start without interrupting the dancing. After we finished the lovely South Galway all the work was done so we only had to head home happy after another fine ceili.
The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was my next ceili port of call on December 23rd. This time I was travelling on my own but as I'd done the difficult work of finding my way here two years earlier (and it wasn't too hard even then) I came straight here in very good time. In fact I arrived so early I had to wait three quarters of an hour in the car before the lights went on in the Commodore Barry Club. I waited till a few other folks went in before venturing forth myself. Inside I received an enthusiastic welcome from John Sheilds, a teacher with an enormous amount of energy and a contagious love of dancing.
The Commodore Barry Club is an impressive old building with a fine big hall - too big for most of their ceilis so we were based in the bar, which was perfectly suited to the party. There was a nice bit of floor in the middle for six sets, with seating on one side and the bar on the other. Nearly every set in the programme (nineteen dances this time, sets, ceili and two-hands) brought out exactly six sets so it was always filled but never crowded. The atmosphere couldn't have been better! The only thing they couldn't fit in was the table of goodies, which was in an adjacent room.
Before the Christmas party began John taught a workshop with the help of Cass Tinney, a petite quiet lady and fine dancer who's well able to handle beginning gents twice her size. John started with the new Lusmagh Set, which I'd only seen once before, and then taught several interesting and unusual two hand dances. Some of them were different from ones I've danced, even if they may have had the same names. We started dancing in the bar, but when the band wanted to do a sound check we relocated to the room with the food and happily danced away on the lino.
The band of the night were five local musicians led by John Brennan, a fiddler with a powerful style of playing. Other players also came and went but the fantastic sound lasted all night long. We made a noble attempt to dance the entire programme and probably missed just two or three of the nineteen dances. Everyone left that night in the best of Christmas spirit.
I spent New Year's Eve dancing in a caravan park. Cherry Hill Park in College Park, Maryland, is an RV (recreational vehicle) park where vacationers in their camper vans and trailers can stay when visiting the Washington DC area. It has numerous holiday amenities, including a swimming pool, miniature golf course and playground, but unusually it also has a large conference centre housing a spacious ballroom with a sprung floor. This is the regular venue for monthly ceilis held by the Greater Washington Ceili Club, organisers of the the New Year's Eve ceili.
I was the chauffeur tonight for three Maryland ladies, but as it was my first time here, they provided me with expert directions, having made the journey here many times themselves. The park was empty of caravans, but numerous dancers were arriving at the conference centre. Two rows of lighted candles in weighted paper bags marked the way to the entrance. Inside I began to wonder if I was underdressed when I was greeted by folks in dinner jackets and dickie bows, but the formal attire was entirely optional.
The ballroom was set up with a dozen tables on one side and the musicians on the opposite side and there was still a huge amount of floor space in between. Each place on the table was set with plastic champagne glasses, noisemakers, a jug of ice water and dance cards. The cards listed each of the night's dances with a space to write in the name of your partner, so we all started making bookings and writing them down! In a separate room there stood four tables full of food brought by the guests.
The dancing proceeded like clockwork tonight, exactly according to the programme. Music was by two superb fiddlers, Brendan Mulvihill and Dave Abe, accompanied by Zan McLeod on guitar and Myron Bretholz on bodhran. They were so pleased with their own music that I saw them congratulating each other after a set and the dancers regularly gave them long cheers at the end of the figures. The dancing was relaxed, with eight sets, two waltzes, two breaks and plenty of time to chat and celebrate.
The last set of 2005 was the Mazurka Set, and amazingly, the first one of 2006 was the Caragh Lake Set. (I hadn't seen this set for years and here I was dancing it for the second time on my trip!) In between, we watch the last few seconds of the old year tick away and welcomed the new with noisemakers, champagne and sparkling apple juice for the designated drivers. The night ended with the Lancers Set and a rake of reels in which my set danced two figures of the Claddagh Set and then two more of the Connemara. It was well after 2am when the national anthems were played and we ventured outside into the brand new year.
It was Sunday afternoon, November 27th and I had danced seven nights in a row! I was aware that the Westport Set Dancing Weekend was on and due to previous commitments was not able to attend until this afternoon. I found my way to the lovely Westport Woods Hotel and went downstairs to where the ceili was held; a lovely good sized ballroom with beautiful windows on two sides looking into the woods. Matt Cunningham and musicians were setting up and the crowd was gathering. It was fun seeing some of the people I hadn't seen since my introduction to set dancing in Tubbercurry in July.
I listened to the buzz and asked a few questions of the dancers standing around with tapping feet, waiting for the music to begin. "What did you find most enjoyable about this weekend?" I received various answers. "I really enjoyed the workshops (two on Saturday and one on Sunday morning) and the teaching of Séamus Ó Méalóid." A couple said they were glad to arrive for Friday night's ceili and to dance to the wonderful sounds of Swallow's Tail. Some spoke of the lovely surroundings and the wonderful hospitality of the Westport organizers. Most were in agreement with Collette McMahon and Catherine Dodd, both of Dublin, who said, "For us, it was the Saturday night ceili with Heather Breeze. We enjoyed the music and craic and there were lots of dancers and dances!" Others enjoyed the seisiún held before the Saturday night ceili at Hoban's Pub.
I was anxious to find out what sets were taught during the weekend and Gráinne Uí Chaomhanaigh, Dublin, was most helpful in that area. The Claddagh, East Galway, Sneem and Frères Nantais sets were taught by Séamus. Gráinne informed me that he started teaching set dancing in Coolmine, Clonsilla, Co Dublin, in 1983 when set dancing was just beginning to be revived outside of competitions. She said that dancers travelled from England as well as Belfast, Donegal, Omagh, Dublin, Northumberland and the four corners of Ireland for this weekend's dancing. The largest group was made up of thirty dancers who travelled from Dublin. Gráinne was helpful in gathering sixteen of those present for a group picture with their very popular teacher Séamus above.
Today, we enjoyed the music of Matt Cunningham. His drummer for this ceili was Aidan Vaughan and I tried to coax him off the drums for a set, but to no avail. He is a wonderful dancer, but tonight his job was clearly to keep the beat with hands and feet! The sets we danced were the Clare Lancers, Corofin Plain, Newport and Caledonian. Matt played some beautiful waltzes and I really enjoyed my dances with a gentleman named Michael, who is a wonderful set dancer and excellent at the waltz. The freeing nature of dancing is amazing to me. I think it is next to impossible to carry negativity or burdens while you are dancing, and I am sure the pharmaceutical companies would have much less business if people would just dance more. If it sounds simplistic, that's because it is! We danced a few more sets and ended with the Connemara.
A very special set was introduced this evening at the Westport Woods Hotel. The name of it was the Pipeline Set and it was danced anonymously. It was inspired by the ordeal of the "Rossport Five" in Co Mayo who were jailed for their efforts to prevent a gas pipeline crossing their farms. I thought it might end up with the dancers "bashing" the pipeline or perhaps throwing it out the window, but they were only there to dance and have fun, so the dance continued as a lovely two figure set. I would say it was not too difficult; however I don't think it will make its way through the set dancing circuit.
As the National Anthem was played, with a powerful fiddle line from Matt's daughter, the sound of singing was strong. It is not very often that I hear so many sing the National Anthem and it was moving for me. This weekend is always held on the last weekend in November and usually rotates between three teachers; next year, marking it's twentieth year, the teacher will be Pat Murphy. I do not plan to miss it!
Gemma Burke Bourré, Belcarra, Co Mayo
The Westport Woods Hotel looks out over the picturesque lake and estate of Westport House, home of the Marquess of Sligo. Swallow's Tail Ceili Band got the workshop weekend there off to an excellent start on Friday 25th November. The enthusiasm of the band was relayed to the dancers who danced a great mix of sets with great enjoyment on a perfect floor. We don't hear enough of this band in Co Mayo, and I very much look forward to dancing to them again.
Saturday night the 26th gave us a choice of venue. Knowing from previous years that the Westport Woods with Heather Breeze would be totally packed with visitors from all over Ireland and England, I and many other local dancers took the road to Kilconly, a village on the borders of Mayo and Galway for a super night of dancing with the Carousel Ceili Band, who were in tremendous form.
The following Sunday, 4th December, I travelled down to Co Galway again for Matt Cunningham's ceili in Kilcoona, a few miles below Headford. The hall was full of dancers both young and not so young. The excellent music had everyone dancing for the entire afternoon. This was one of the friendliest ceilis I have ever been to and await with great anticipation to my next outing to Kilcoona.
The village of Roundfort held its Christmas ceili on 10th December with Heather Breeze providing the excellent music. Thank you to all who made this night so successful. Partry village situated on the N84 between Ballinrobe and Castlebar held a Christmas ceili on the 17th with Matt Cunningham again providing some very exhilarating music for the very enthusiastic dancers.
On the 28th I travelled across to the Belmont Hotel in Knock, east Mayo, for what turned out to be a fantastic night of music, song and dance. Matt Cunningham and his band were playing and singing at their very best. The huge crowd danced the night away, as well as a lot of the added pounds from the Christmas festivities. On behalf of all there I would like to thank Josephine Ganley and Aidan Kelly for such a wonderful night.
The Castlecourt Hotel in Westport was packed for the ceili on the 4th January 2006 with all proceeds going to the local Alzheimer's foundation. Pat Friel and Heather Breeze were in excellent form and played some glorious music for us to dance to, starting with the local Derradda Set. We were quickly into the Corofin Plain, followed by the lovely, less vigorous Kilfenora Set. Several two-hand dances were followed by a very exhilarating Ballyvourney Jig which in the very warm atmosphere got us all in a sweat. We were glad to stop and have several cups of tea and a raffle. A revitalized crowd of dancers went on to dance the Castle and Claddagh sets, the latter being one of my favourites. After several more sets and as the time crept on we were too soon dancing the final Connemara Reel, all of us satisfied by such a good night. The sum of €1,600 was raised for the Alzheimer's Foundation. Thank you to all concerned.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
It was New Year's Eve, the very last night in December.
We were invited to a party we will always remember.
To work off the Christmas excess we needed to dance.
Thanks to Sharon and Mick we got that chance.
The party was scheduled to begin at eight,
And due to finish very late.
We were greeted with a warm welcome as we came through the door,
Offered food and drink and much more.
A spacious room, a wooden floor,
A good night's set dancing was in store.
The night outside was cold and wet.
We warmed up with the Connemara Set.
There were three sets on the floor,
And still room for one more.
The Cashel, the Clare Lancers and the Ardgroom too,
All these sets we did also do.
There were some who had not danced before,
They enjoyed themselves and never left the floor.
Paddy Hayden with his accordion then did give a tune.
We were soon waltzing around the room.
Jules, who is eighty maybe one year more,
Also got up and waltzed around that floor.
If it were a competition she would have been the best,
She waltzed ten minutes without a rest.
Soon it was midnight and to the old year we bid adieu.
We danced Auld Lang Syne and welcomed the new.
We raised our glasses and wished one anotherA Happy New Year.
Yes 2006 was really here,
Now back to the party it was not finished yet.
We were soon on the floor and danced the Plain Set.
To replace lost energy some of us now needed a Guinness or two,
Because the Baile Bhuirne was the next set we had to do.
Sharon was a hard taskmaster, there was no respite.
By now it was time to call it a night.
There is not much more to add to this poem,
Only thank Sharon and Mick for inviting us to their home.
It was a rousing party we had mighty craic.
Please God next year they will have us back.
Sheamus Garry, Bishopston, Bristol, England
The distance travelled by some of the more seasoned dancers on a midwinter night is testament to the popularity of the Christmas ceili in the Skreen-Dromard Community Centre, approximately seven miles from Ballisodare on the N59 on December 10th. The warm welcome of the locals made the trip all the more worthwhile. Although only in its third year, it is already established in the dancing calendar next ceili is down for 9th December and it is easy to see why. Once again the Davey family kept the dancers on their toes whether playing reels, polkas, slides, jigs or hornpipes, with a few waltzes and quicksteps thrown in for good measure. During a well-organised break we were treated to a lavish spread of homemade goodies. Everything from sandwiches and Christmas pies to toffee slices and carrot cake, all under control of Tiasha, the "kitchen captain." For the long distance traveller, some of whom were facing a journey home of over two hours, there were more tea and treats after the ceili. Thank you everybody for a great night.
Stephen Sullivan, Co Mayo
The Wren in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on St Stephen's Day was the biggest and most colourful to date. Sixty-five wren boys turned out in various costumes including a number in straw suits. The Wren Boys Festival has developed from a small beginning when it was revived in Carrigaline some twenty years ago to being one of the most colourful and entertaining events in the county on St Stephen's Day. The town centre was closed off to through traffic from 11am to 1pm as traditional musicians and dancers from a number of branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the pipe band entertained on the Main Street. Hundreds of onlookers spontaneously took to the floor and joined in the singing and dancing. The wren boys later visited all the pubs and the hotel where they were well received.
A collection in aid of Marymount Hospice and Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association was taken up by the wren boys. The annual South Union Hunt meet took place in the town centre at the same time. They gathered outside Rosie's for the traditional hot toddies and made a colourful spectacle as 100 horses and riders were applauded through the Main Street as the wren boys led the crowd in the strains of Maidrín a Rua. The Half-Way Vintage Club played their part in making the day a really festive occasion. They brought in two steam engines and raised many a cheer every time they sounded their whistles. St. Stephen's Day 2005 in Carrigaline will long be remembered by the estimated 7,000 who attended on a beautiful fine day. There was a variety of free entertainment with something to suit everybody. A great day was had by all.
Barry Cogan, Carrigaline, Co Cork
The romance that started in Ibiza and led to the altar! Two years ago Fiona Carr from southeast London went to Ibiza with her parents. Fiona loves dancing so she was enjoying the fun. Two days into the holiday she was standing by the bar when a very tall, handsome young man, Dominic O'Neill from Rathcoffey, Co Kildare, approached her with a very smooth chat-up line - "Well, I never thought I'd meet an angel in Ibiza." Fiona smiled and said, "Thank you." But on the way back to her table she thought, "What the hell is he on?"
Later that night when he asked her to dance and she saw the speed of those long long legs and the batter of the size twelves, she was getting quite interested. Everything was going good until he told her that he lived in Ireland and then there was a bit of an "Aw." She then thought to herself, "Well, I hope he's got a helicopter - how else am I going to meet him two nights a week?" After the holiday, the hour-long phone calls and weekly trips to London started. Dominic then knew he had fallen for the angel from Ibiza 'hook, line and sinker.'
Fiona and Dominic got married in Co Cavan on 3 September 2005 and they both look very happy. It goes to show that when two people fall in love the distance is not a problem. 'Even in a wet night on a bad bike!' All the dancers wish Fiona and Dominic all the very best.
Sheila Carty, Streatham, London, England
Most people travelling to the Alps in wintertime hit the slopes; only very few head out for the passion called set dancing and so I did. My travelling companion on the long drive to Lake Thun in Switzerland was 'Holger', the area of low pressure hanging over most of Europe these days, including England and France where travellers were forced to stay in emergency camps for a night. After fighting icy, snow-covered roads and traffic jams, I finally arrived safely in Gwatt at the lake to share my first evening meal with other dancers and Pat Murphy who has also made a long journey to Lake Thun.
Manuela Morel and Bernhard Horlacher had organised a four-day workshop weekend over New Year with Pat Murphy as the tutor. He was constantly on duty teaching wonderful sets and calling the ceilis every night. Gwatt at Lake Thun is situated under the 'Top of Europe' - the highest mountains in Europe, many of them higher than four kilometres or 2½ miles.
All dancers enjoyed their first ceili on 28 December with live music delivered by very talented young musicians who call themselves Toe for Toe. They played untiringly for all ceilis and for every set chosen by Pat Murphy or requested by the dancers. They really were 'our' band for these four days.
For the workshops which were held for 2½ hours in the morning and afternoon, Pat Murphy chose wonderful sets such as Melleray Lancers, Armagh, South Sligo Lancers, Tory Island Lancers and many more. What pleasure I had listening to Pat tell little anecdotes and stories surrounding many of the sets! This adds so much more to set dancing-it feels like dancing history! Also, he always made us aware of the tricky parts of some figures and never let us get trapped.
After lunch one day when the weather was magnificent, our teacher had the chance to join me and a few friends for a trip to the top of a mountain. What a time challenge it was since the afternoon workshop was scheduled to start at 3pm! After a twenty-minute drive we reached the terminus of a cable car which brought us to the top of a mountain called Stockhorn 2190m, 7185ft. What a spectacular view was waiting for us, well worth every meter of the journey! Surrounded by the Alps and a clear sky we found ourselves opposite the Top of Europe, the three famous Swiss mountains called Eiger (Ogre), 3970m, 13,025ft, Mönch (Monk), 4099m, 13,448ft and Jungfrau (Maiden), 4158m, 13,642ft. The north face of the Eiger is well known for extreme mountain climbing on almost vertical, icy pure rock. Many tragic deaths have occurred there in the past years. For climbers, this is a passion like set dancing for us, but fortunately set dancing is less dangerous!
At 2.45pm we arrived safe and sound back at the dance hall. Inspired by the clear mountain air, Pat Murphy taught us wonderful steps for sets. These steps are precious treasures like diamonds which we could take home with us. We finished the afternoon with the lovely Monaghan Set looking forward to another nightly ceili.
Finally, the last day of the year had arrived and what better can set dancers do than to spend the day with dancing. As the evening approached, everybody got dressed up for the New Year's Eve banquet which was served in a nearby conference centre. After this delicious meal dancers made their short way back to the hall through freshly fallen snow. The last ceili of the evening was interrupted by mighty performances like hard and soft shoe dancing by our fantastic dancer Kristina, a lovely native Swiss dance, a French dance, a wonderful song in the Irish language sung by Jennifer McGowan and the Polly Glide danced by Pat and other Irish guests.
As all the bells around the lake rang in the New Year, everybody went outside to see the fireworks wishing each other a Happy New Year! The first morning of 2006 we started by dancing the Drumgarriff Half-Set, the Doire Colmcille and finished off with the Clare Orange and Green.
After saying many thanks to Pat for his absolutely mighty workshops, dancers were heading home, a very long journey for many of them, but well worth it - thanks to Pat Murphy!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
The first weekend in January is not normally associated with weekend breaks because of its proximity to the Christmas holiday season. For avid followers of set dancing this weekend is always the exception and if the numbers attending the set dancing weekend in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, in 2006 are any barometer for the popularity of set, sean nós and two-hand dancing, then this positive trend is set to continue well into the future.
In recent years there has been a steady growth in the popularity of set dancing and while the Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan committee was well prepared for a bumper weekend from 6th to 8th January, it was obvious from very early in the weekend that all attendance records at the Abbey Court Hotel would be broken. The hotel had been booked out for some time and many of the local B&Bs were also full for the weekend.
From early Friday afternoon visitors from Japan, Australia, USA, France, Germany, UK and from all over the island of Ireland were arriving at the Abbey Court Hotel. The gathering ceili on Friday evening got proceedings off to a great start with music from Tom McCarthy and Emily Kennedy and dancers were enthralled with the fine lively music from these two talented musicians.
Saturday more than lived up to expectations with record attendances at all events. The set dance workshop conducted by Tipperary-born Pat Murphy, who is now regarded worldwide as the major dance master of set dancing, got things off to a fine start with the Sliabh gCua Set and followed with the Caragh Lake Jig Set before lunchtime Saturday. Pat introduced the gathering to three further sets in the afternoon, Lusmagh, Lispole and Lorrha-Aglish sets. While all these sets were being danced in the Baronial Hall, Aidan Vaughan was putting his charges through their paces with an equally enjoyable workshop of Clare battering and sean nós steps in the aerobics studio of the Abbey Court Hotel. Mass was celebrated by Father Willie Teehan in the main ballroom after the workshops ended for the afternoon.
It was time then to recharge the batteries before the ceili mór with the dynamic Johnny Reidy Ceili Band from Kerry later in the evening. A large crowd was expected at this ceili and an unprecedented avalanche of dancers began arriving almost an hour before the band went on stage. The atmosphere in the ballroom from the very first set was pure magic and this writer has never experienced anything like it before. This was a night that will live in the memory of all who were lucky enough to have been in Nenagh for a truly wonderful night of top class music and dancing the likes of which could not be bettered anywhere.
A heavy frost on Saturday night caused some concern but there was no need to worry as a large crowd of dancers arrived in good time for Pat Murphy's workshop which featured a selection of two-hand dances. This was Pat's first time devoting a full workshop session to them. Among the dances covered on Sunday morning were the Mississippi Dip, Peeler and The Goat, Breakaway Blues, Aoife Three-step, Back to Back Hornpipe and Waltz of The Bells. These dances are proving to be very popular among the dancing fraternity and will feature in céilithe everywhere in the months and years ahead.
There was still plenty to look forward to for the afternoon with the great Glenside Ceili Band which has a huge following. They did not disappoint with an afternoon of music and dancing that sent dancers homeward looking forward to the same weekend in 2007.
Michael Loughnane was fear a' tí for the weekend and between himself and Pat Murphy they called over 22 dances during the course of the weekend.
Danny Morrissey, Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan
Set dancing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. It's the vertical expression of horizontal desire. It mirrors the rhythm of sexual intercourse. This was the ruling of a US judge back in November as reported in the Irish media when he claimed that a jig is as sexy as a lap dance and should be banned. Well, the dancers in Malahide on the weekend of January 13th came in their hundreds, but not for any of the above reasons I think but to enjoy the sheer magic of learning new dances and practising the old.
This was the tenth fundraising event held in memory of the late Connie Ryan, who was instrumental in reviving set dancing and was an inspirational teacher and friend. Organised by Betty McCoy with Michael and Celine Tubridy and John and Ann Grant it has become an established workshop in the set dance calendar. There is always an air of apprehension and anxiety from the organisers that maybe it won't be as successful as other years but they can rest assured that dancers, musicians and teachers enjoyed themselves immensely and have already pencilled it in for next year.
It was run with its usual professionalism. The floor was perfect, there was plenty of ice-cold water, and the workshops and ceilis started on time. Indeed, Connie, looking down on everyone, would not have been able to find a single fault.
The event is consistently so enjoyable that Máire Ní Iarnain, while awaiting a hip operation, discharged herself from hospital for the afternoon to come to a ceili; two young Japanese women, Tamiko from Kyoto and Takako from Tokyo, flew in just for the weekend; groups came from Denmark, Italy, England and America; and rumour had it that Peter Stringfellow, who is trying to open a Lap Dancing club in Dublin, was spotted trying to make a fist of some steps.
There is an established format now to this weekend. Aidan Vaughan from west Clare opened the Friday night session with a class in steps for sets. Over 200 people circled the floor while Aidan demonstrated his techniques and talked about music and keeping time. This is a very basic class and is ideal for the beginning of the weekend. It led into the first ceili with music by the Slievenamon Group who are all friends of Connie and shared many dancing and music sessions with him. It was a great night of gentle music.
On Saturday morning Pat Murphy taught two sets. As has been the custom for the last couple of years, he introduces a new set to the class with the hope that it will be danced with some frequency. His constant research brings great interest to his workshops. This year he taught the the Clashmore Set from Co Waterford, which he got from Helen Crotty, and the Lusmagh Set from Co Offaly.
Then Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey gave a sean nós workshop. They are brilliant exponents of this art form, which is becoming more and more popular. A young man, Oliver from Hamburg, whom I suspect must have attended many of their classes, took to the floor with amazing expertise and he was joined by a young woman from Paris who matched his steps.
The Four Courts played for the Saturday afternoon ceili in their gentle West Clare style. Drummer Aidan Vaughan and concertina player Chris Droney are sean nós dancers and they obliged by dancing a few steps. And there was another treat in store when Chris Droney played a selection of music from his new CD, Down from Bell Harbour.
Mass was said in memory of Connie on Saturday evening and friends and family gathered to share thoughts and pray for him. A session then took place in the bar area and it was hard to tear yourself away for the Saturday night ceili but the Brian Ború Ceili Band with a full line up was even harder to resist.
They played two years ago at this weekend and have since gone from strength to strength. All but one of the band are set dancers and this is evident in their pace and timing. Séamus Ó Méalóid described their music as "solid and steady" - a great compliment from such a noted dancer. Eileen Doherty called the sets with her usual expertise and humour. A great night.
Sunday morning saw an old-style traditional dancing class with Celine and Michael Tubridy, and to the surprise of students Tetsuya, Naomi and Aki from Japan, he introduced the class in Japanese. He and Celine have travelled to Japan on a couple of occasions teaching a style of dance that has almost disappeared from dance teachers' repertoires. She learnt her dances from Dan Furey and James Keane, old dancing masters from Labasheeda, Co Clare.
Then Timmy Woulfe introduced the class to a West Limerick set as danced in Cratloe, Athea. A teacher in this area for 35 years, Timmy has been involved in the set dance revival for over forty years. He worked with Connie Ryan back in the early '80s and they produced a booklet Coisceim 1. The dances that we enjoy from the Limerick area are due to Timmy's painstaking work. He taught a six-figure dance, with an unusual first figure, a reel danced to a polka step. Then followed four polka figures and a hornpipe. Timmy was a well-known GAA player togged out for his native Limerick and when his playing days were over he became a much-respected referee. He regaled the class with anecdotes about set dancing and matchmaking in his area. It was highly enjoyable.
Matt Cunningham played for the Sunday afternoon ceili and sets were danced that had been taught for the weekend. Their brilliant music kept up the momentum of the weekend and it was with sadness that it came to an end.
Betty McCoy is already making plans for next year's event, with the promise from the Grand Hotel of more bedrooms and a special rate for participants. Roll on next January.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
The Brandon Hotel and Conference Centre in the heart of Tralee town hosted the renowned Shindig festival for the second year. Dancers arrived from early afternoon on Friday although some festival goers had arrived from Thursday, especially some of our European friends.
Dancing began on Friday evening in the Parkview Room with the talented young County Clare tutor Peter Hanrahan teaching his first class of the festival. I counted 60 dancers eagerly attempting the wonderful traditional Clare battering steps. Peter is a gifted dancer and instructor, but more importantly he loves every moment of his dancing. At approximately 9pm a special guest Dustin the Turkey of RTÉ children's television fame visited the workshop. Dustin joined in the dancing and a camera crew recorded the dancing for approximately fifteen minutes The cameraman told me that this would be shown on the children's programme on the following Monday afternoon.
The workshop concluded at 9.30pm and throngs of dancers began to gather in the Great Hall. When the mighty Glenside started to tune up, sets began to form on the floor. The ceili began at 10.30 with the Castle Set. We danced eight sets altogether - Plain, Corofin, Clare Lancers, Sliabh Luachra, Ballyvourney, Connemara and finished with the Caledonian. The music was terrific and the 55 sets that graced the floor didn't want the night to end - the atmosphere was electric. As we tried to unwind in the Princess Bar after the ceili hotel guests were treated to complimentary tea and coffee.
Saturday morning at 10.30am Pat Murphy started his workshop. Pat started with the Black Valley Square Jig Set. Pat said he got this set from Timmy McCarthy. This set is a Kerry jewel with four jigs and a reel and reminds me a bit of the Caragh Lake Jig Set with the squares in all the figures and the diamond in the last figure.
The next set taught by Pat was the Lispole Set, another Kerry set. He told us that John Chambers had given him this set at the Listowel weekend in October 2005. I had danced this little treasure in November in Longford and was delighted that it was getting another airing in Tralee. This set also has five figures, two polkas, a slide, a polka and finishes with a hornpipe. The hornpipe figure is a bit unusual with the ladies reversing for two bars to each corner before turning on to the next position in the body. This set has a lot of charm and I hope it reaches the ceili scene and becomes one of the regular sets.
The next set on the agenda was the Lusmagh Set from Co Offaly, another easygoing set with lots of character. This set has three reels and finishes with a polka. It has been danced in numerous areas since it was first introduced and demonstrated by Joe O'Sullivan and his dancers at the Fleadh Ibiza in 2005. Mike Mahony from Shannon, Co Clare, recorded the set and has been instrumental in passing it on and also dancing it at his own classes. Pat thanked Mike for giving him this set. We only had time to go through the first figure before lunch. Pat finished the set after lunch and we danced it right through.
Our next set was the Clashmore Set from County Waterford. Pat said he only very recently got this set from Helen Crotty. This fabulous set has three polkas and a hornpipe and has similarities to the wonderful Ballyduff Set which is another Waterford set.
Time was running short and the twenty sets that had enjoyed the morning workshop had become twelve. Pat concluded the workshop with the first figure of the East Galway Reel Set, the long version. Pat told us that he learned this set in Westport, Co Mayo, from Séamus Ó Méalóid and that it is danced around the Aughrim and Kilconnell areas of east Galway.
Sunshine beckoned some dancers outside but a lot of dancers took part in the Clare battering steps workshop with Peter Hanrahan and the Connemara sean nós workshop with Róisín Ní Mhainín. I was told that these classes attracted 100 dancers on Saturday.
On Saturday evening there was a bar session featuring Donncha Lynch and Caitlín Ní Bheaglaoich from 7.30 to 10pm. A few dancers collected themselves and danced the Jenny Ling Set.
The Saturday night ceili got underway at 10.30 with the mighty music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. The floor was packed all night with approximately fifty sets at a time. All the Clare sets were danced and we did get a Sliabh Luachra and a Ballyvourney. I was disappointed that some of the sets we danced at the workshop didn't get an airing. Paddy Hanafin invited Pat Murphy on stage to call his own favourite and set dancers were delighted that he called the wonderful Claddagh Set. Mid-way through the ceili as dancers took a short break we had a display of battering steps and sean nós dancing. It was encouraging to see so many young people at the ceilis and workshops. Everyone seemed to enjoy him or herself and all too soon the ceili was over.
Dancers thronged upstairs to the Parkview Room for more dancing, singing and storytelling. The party was well underway when I finally got there. We danced the Clare Lancers, Sliabh Luachra and Borlin sets. I retired at 3am but the party continued well into the small hours.
Sunday morning Pat Murphy was all set and eager as usual to start the workshop at 10.30am. Dancers were slow to arrive but Pat being the true professional started on time anyway. As we had begun the East Galway Set Pat decided to continue teaching it. I remember dancing this at a ceili many years ago while on a trip to Inis Mór with the Thurles Set Dancing Group. The set has five figures, three reels, a jig and a reel with nothing complicated. Accomplished dancers and novices enjoyed all the workshops. Pat Murphy is a brilliant teacher, real gentleman and charmer.
Peter Hanrahan and Róisín Ní Mhainín who had been teaching workshops upstairs all morning arrived in to the Great Hall and the workshop concluded with these young talented tutors putting everyone through their paces showing off their newly acquired steps.
The afternoon ceili started at 2.30pm with the exuberant Johnny Reidy on stage. We began with the Sliabh Luachra then a list of Clare sets including the lovely Kilfenora, and we did get a wonderful West Kerry Set. Again I counted fifty sets on the floor for the Plain Set. The dancing was brilliant and the floor space was adequate for the large numbers.
Many festival goers left to return home after the afternoon ceili but the twelve sets that remained had a fantastic ceili from 8.30pm to 12am with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh once more providing marvellous music. We danced all the usual sets including the Kilfenora and the ceili concluded with the Caledonian. These two musicians played a fantastic selection of reels and I can say hand on heart no reel tune was repeated all night.
Another Shindig Festival had come to an end. Thanks to Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin and their team, to the gifted tutors Pat Murphy, Peter Hanrahan and Róisín Ní Mhainín and to the brilliant music of the Glenside Ceili Band, Micheal Sexton and Pat Walsh and Johnny Reidy we enjoyed yet another fantastic festival in Tralee.
Joan Pollard Carew
This year the Johnny O'Leary Association in Turin in the northwest of Italy put on two wonderful dance workshops by our beloved Irish friends. The club, dedicated to Johnny O'Leary, the well-known accordion player from County Kerry, was born in 1993 and deals with many of the dancing traditions of northwest Europe, from northern Italy to several French regions and from green Ireland to Scandinavia. Every year we organize several events connected to Irish culture, music and dance. Last October a three-level Irish dancing course began for beginners, intermediate and step dancing. Furthermore there is a good many live Irish music party nights with some Italian bands that have been practising and playing the Irish music for many a year, among whom we should like to mention Zest, Filid, The Red Box and Inis Fail.
Irish music and dance are really unique and very involving. The first time I heard tunes played by an Irish band I was in France and I was suddenly amazed. This was at the end of the eighties and I was so struck by the music that I thought I should do something to make these sounds known in Italy as well. At that time, some players already dealt with Irish music, but few of them knew anything about dance. Our association was thus among the first to organize dance workshops and to invite Irish dancers to teach - Lisa and Paddy Moroney, Patrick O'Dea, William Hammond and Annie O'Donnell.
We went several times to Ireland and took part in many a workshop and festival, including Miltown Malbay, Feakle and Galway. Later we organized some exchanges with a group of Irish friends we met in 2001 at Le Grand Bal de l'Europe in Gennetines, France, a festival which has become more popular and appreciated among folk lovers.
In 2003 and 2004 we put on two New Year's Day parties in a small mountain village called Villar Pellice, forty miles from Turin, where people had a good time dancing all kinds of quadrilles from different countries - Italy, France and Ireland, Austria. It was a triumph for quadrilles, and a lot of Irish sets were danced as well, played by the band Filid who are becoming better and better at playing this kind of music. Our Irish and English friends met us in Turin: Maria O'Leary, Tim Murphy, Bernie Nash, Ger Mulgannon, Karen Mezza, Terri Flynn, Deirdre McInerney, Fintan Pepper, Con Lynch, Margaret Reilly, Peter Davies and Kieran Browne.
For St Patrick's Day 2005 we planned a workshop with our dearest Irish friend and excellent dancer Donncha Ó Muíneacháin. We had known him for years and we last met him in Dublin in the summer, where we stayed a couple of days to talk to him about our idea. Donncha was very glad to meet us in Turin and for the occasion he involved two Irish players, Michael O'Connor and Colman Nugent, asking Comhaltas to support the event by paying the flight tickets.
Everything was finally set up, then we were informed that poor Donncha was dead. We were aghast, we couldn't believe it. He was so fine when we last saw him in the summer! We commemorated him heartily at the St Patrick's party in Turin with Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey, who kindly agreed to come in his place. Mick told us something about their long-standing friendship and Mairéad sang a touching song. The class practising step dancing in Turin showed some reel steps which Donncha taught me a year before with his unique enthusiasm and passion. It was really moving. Bridget Danagher, Helen and Willie Lawlor, Donncha's friends, were there too.
Another chance to do Irish set dancing was at the Gran Bal Trad near the village of Vialfrè at the end of June 2005. This is a traditional folk festival organized every year by the Johnny O'Leary Association together with the area's other folk dance clubs. This is going to become a more and more appreciated festival, with dancers coming from all over Italy and from France, Ireland, the USA, Japan and Israel. It's an international meeting in the style of the above-mentioned festival in Gennetines. It was held on the hills and meadows of Canavese, an area situated in the northwest of the Italian province of Piedmont, near a town called Ivrea. Our nice and dearest friend Jim Monaghan, better known as 'Elvis,' was with us from Dublin. He taught the Killyon, South Galway and Mayo Lancers sets to the tunes played by a Parisian band called the All Seasons Ceili Band. Soon the dancers felt at ease with him and the cheerfulness and playfulness he showed while teaching sets using Italian, French and Irish words. Then 'Elvis' did his best performance of his brush dance during the ceili. We were also very pleased to welcome John Sinnott and Micheál Lalor from the Half Door Club who participated in the demonstration sets.
We hope to have a lot of moments like these again, to spend with friends, carried away by the rhythms of music and dance. Of course, don't come to Italy without calling us in Turin! Everybody is welcome.
Flora Sarzotti, Turin, Italy
The Mid Island Irish American Club held the second of its monthly ceili dances on Saturday, November 5th, 2005, at the newly renovated American Legion Hall in Plainview, Long Island, New York. The hall had been damaged in a fire, but is now completely restored. The beautiful oak flooring is in great condition, with just enough give to minimize stress on the dancers' legs. Dancing there is truly a pleasant experience. More than 100 people attended the event, but there was plenty of room for dancing.
I've wondered why dancing at the Mid Island Irish American Club's monthly ceili is so enjoyable. The lively, energetic Irish music is certainly one of the reasons, and I've also been told that the form of the music itself is significant. An A section, the first half of the tune, is played and repeated, then a B section, then back to the A section and so on. This repetition serves to familiarize the dancers with the music and provides them with cues when it's time to do something different. As each section is repeated, the talented musicians will add embellishments that seem to energize the dancers and their steps become more emphatic. When the final bars of a figure are played, the dancers anticipate the last beat and end the dance with a resounding stomp on the floor. Immediately a smile breaks out on everyone's face and the applause begins. A euphoric feeling of accomplishment fills the room and everyone becomes your friend. Even those who came simply to watch the dancers and enjoy the music will join in the applause. It is truly an enjoyable experience.
On this night the people who had come just to listen were in for a special treat. The band was Ceol na gCroi which means 'music from the heart' and they were outstanding. The band featured James Keane on the button accordion, Linda Hickman on the flute, Brendan Fahey on the ceili drums and Connor McGurt on the keyboard. James Keane is an acclaimed musician who has made a number of recordings and has performed at concerts in Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York. His brother Sean plays with the Chieftains. Connor McGurt was the All-Ireland keyboard and piano accordion champion in 2001, 2002 and 2004. They were all outstanding performers.
The dance program was also exciting, starting with the Clare Lancers, an old-time waltz, the Ballyvourney Jig, Paris, Donegal, High-Cauled Cap and Connemara sets. By then the dancers were grateful for a much needed intermission. The second part of the program consisted of the Caledonian, Castle, Plain, Kilfenora and North Kerry sets, followed by a selection of reels. The night ended with the national anthems of Ireland and the United States. Teachers Matt Dolan and John Bergin and club president John Broderick deserve much of the credit for the wonderful friendly atmosphere that exists at Mid Island Irish American ceilis.
Jim Keane, Smithtown, New York
A place surrounded by mountains, wolves howling, winds blowing through the big forests and cold running through our bodies - might this be the image you have of Transylvania?
In the heart of this breathtaking landscape, at the foot of the so-called Transylvanian Alps, in the core of a beautiful medieval city every Wednesday night one can hear the rhythm and tunes of a music that cannot be taken but for what it really is, Irish music. How come? Why here?
Here because the Irish stories, in both music and verse, reached Transylvania and captivated some people to such an extent that a piece of the humorous and friendly Ireland is here to give both Romanians and Romania's visitors a feeling of how to enjoy life.
One man gathered around him musicians who have been studying and interpreting Irish music together since the summer of 2004. At that time an Irish pub was opened in Brasov which proved to be the perfect setting for our musicians to perform. An Irish pub without a bodhran, a flute or a fiddle playing live? It was a challenge, something new in Brasov, something that people fond of Irish music would have not even dared dream of. Nevertheless, the echo of the Irish music crossed the borders, no visa needed, into the heart and Wednesday's Irish nights have become a tradition at Deane's Pub.
At first the band was called Carolan's Trio after the name of the highly respected Irish musician and composer, and they would play every Saturday evening in the pub's café.
Excitement, tumult, ferment - the foundation of a serious band was being laid and the definite name was chosen, Shamrock Band. The band has been open to many collaborators, teachers at art schools, students and there has always been a nucleus made up of three professional musicians from Brasov Philharmonic Orchestra and an accordionist teaching at the Art School of Brasov.
The founder of this band and the one that initiated this adventurous project is Nicolae Pojar, violinist at Brasov Philharmonic Orchestra and graduate of the George Enescu Conservatory, a person who has never visited Ireland but who fell in love with Irish music. You don't have to be Irish to play Irish music but for sure you need to have some Irish spirit in you, you need to feel the joy of life and you definitely need to have that positive attitude towards life and our existence. It suited a Transylvanian very well. Just imagine a man and his fiddle surrounded by thousands of papers with Irish musical notes, by CDs with Irish music, by Irish poetry, a man with open soul who is sensing Irish emotions through music. I'm sure that if you listen to him playing you'll agree that what he does is Irish music and, more than that, it is the music of lively hearts. That is why three other musicians were excited to join Nicolae.
Mihail Tarnovski, a brilliant accordionist from the Ukraine, who studied the accordion at the conservatory and who teaches this instrument at the Art School of Brasov. His story is very interesting. He worked in Ireland for a few months but the hard work and life never brought him into a pub to listen to Irish music. He only discovered the Irish music back in Brasov, together with his friends. He is ready now to go back to Ireland to experience a completely different side of this beautiful country and to meet his favourite musician, Matt Cunningham.
Costin Rujoiu, the flute man, graduated from a conservatory in the United States and plays at Brasov Philharmonic Orchestra. To him Irish music is a real challenge and fantastic pleasure. He is a young man in continuous artistic development and he is happy to have offered himself this chance to live and enjoy a unique experience.
Florin Garbacea, an experienced percussionist, is still a conservatory man playing in the Brasov Philharmonic Orchestra. He is giving it all to play the bodhran in a Romanian style. A lively man, ready to make people stand up and stamp the rhythm of Shamrock music.
The band is joined by a gentle feminine voice that completes Shamrock's repertory. Krisztina Chripko, a student at the Transilvania University's Faculty of Music in Brasov, is very enthusiastic about and interested in Irish music and she attaches her own personality and sensitivity to the songs she sings.
This briefly is the Shamrock Band, a young and ambitious band that is endeavouring to become a ceili band now. The future Shamrock Ceili Band is already rehearsing its first sets: the Cashel, Connemara, Plain and Kerry. We also hope to get people to learn and dance a few sets in order to have a real ceili in Brasov, the first one in Romania.
I will let Nicolae express his feelings with regard to the Irish spell because the music is the only way he came into contact with the Irish culture -
"By playing Irish music I discovered, all of a sudden, a different world and I fell in love with the Celtic traditions. I would like to find out more about them.
"I realize now that there has always been Irish music around me, on TV, on tapes and I never knew what it really was. Many songs are strikingly similar to Romanian folk songs and our band wishes to promote them both and to interweave them for the sake of the music.
"My personal desire is to gather more Romanians who have visited or who love Ireland to form a friendship chain among Irish and Romanians so as to share our traditions and folklore.
"I must add this is a wonderful thing to do, the communication among cultures on wings of music, poetry and traditions makes us discover many similarities and realize how many things we have in common."
For the end of this article I kept the latest and most extraordinary news on Shamrock Band.
Each November, Brasov is the host of EtNovember, a multicultural festival gathering in live performances of all nationalities living in the Brasov area: Hungarian, Saxon, Jew, Roma and Greek. On stage at EtNovember 2005 was the Shamrock Band. They played Irish music in the synagogue of Brasov without being Irish and without even visiting Ireland. And they represented Irish culture at the festival. People stood up, clapped hands and stamped feet. Is this a sign? Would these people stand up and take the floor for a set? Or two? Or more? It depends, of course, on the Shamrock lads, on us supporting them and on the way we welcome them in the large ceili family.
Nicolae told me that one day an Irish man had thanked the band for the honour they made to his country. This is encouraging indeed. And Nicolae added something else: "Our band is determined to go on playing Irish traditional music. People told us they would like to learn Irish dances. That is why we decided to call our band Shamrock Ceili Band and we hope Saint Patrick will help us have a ceili in Transylvania."
I really hope so and I am doing my best to give them my support because I miss dancing so much and they may be my chance to dance in Romania as well. Two of my Irish friends have already danced in Deane's Pub and I am sure more will come to join us.
Let us give a warm welcome to the Shamrock Ceili Band because this is definitely the final name of the band now!
Simona Bucsa, Brasov, Romania
"Hey, kids, what's happenin'?" The familiar greeting would never fail to bring a smile to my face. Such energy and enthusiasm were a normal part of Theresa's being, and those words exemplified that fact, whether it was on the dance floor, on the phone, or anywhere one happened to meet up with her. Theresa had an innate ability to make anyone feel comfortable immediately, which made her a natural for the timrie damhsa dance coordinator position on the board of the Washington DC area chapter of CCÉ.
On a very personal level, I miss my dance partner for the ladies' set - she danced a terrific gent. I miss the occasions at her house, where we would sit and drink wine, and spend time with her and her wonderful family. I miss the phone call at 2.30pm just about every day when she would be on her way to work at the box office at the Reston Community Center. I miss her easy laugh, especially when she would laugh at herself - it was contagious, and brightened up a dreary day. I miss her shoulder, on which I cried a lot, and her hugs, which helped me through the family struggles which I shared with her over the past few years.
Theresa was instrumental in a few decisions I have made which have been life-changing, and for her wisdom and foresight I will be eternally grateful. I cannot remember exactly when I met Theresa, but it instantly felt like we had known each other all our lives and I knew I had a great friend.
When she died on December 22, 2005, Theresa left a great void in the lives and hearts of her family and her friends. You will dance in our hearts always, Theresa, and the third figure of the Clare Mazurka is forever yours.
Suzanne M Yerks, Sterling, Virginia
It is with deep regret that we make known the death of Mrs Marie Beirne, Saleen, Castlebar, Co Mayo, who recently lost her long battle with cancer. Marie was a highly esteemed and much loved personality in the Castlebar area and was actively involved in the business life of the town for a long number of years.
A native of Lisheen, Strokestown, Co Roscommon, she was proprietor of Beirne Home Interiors, Linenhall Street, Castlebar. Previous to that she ran the Spinning Wheel at Main Street. Marie was always kind and courteous in her dealings with the public and was as well a great supporter of our Saturday night ceilis. She would often be seen at the set dancing classes held in Belcarra and was a strawboy with the dancers from Barney. She and her husband Phil would enjoy the fare and craic at Christmas parties and were a joy to be around.
Above all else, she was very dedicated to her family and gained immense satisfaction from their achievements. Throughout her illness, Marie displayed tremendous courage and dignity and was an inspiration to those closest to her.
The fond regard in which she was held was easily evident in the large and representative turnout at the funeral ceremonies. A guard of honour was formed by set dancers from numerous clubs in the area.
Marie is survived by her husband Phil; sons Seamus, Kevin, Phillip, Aiden, Vincent and Des; daughter Therese; a sister, brothers, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, cousins, relatives, neighbours and friends. To all Marie's family and friends we extend the deepest sympathy of the set dancing community.
Gemma Burke Bourré, Belcarra, Co Mayo
The sad news came of Eamon's passing during Christmas week. After a long illness Eamon contracted diabetes some years ago and as a consequence had to have three toes removed which put an end to his dancing. Nevertheless he still came to ceilis in Nenagh from time to time with his friends to hear the music and watch the dancing, which gave him great happiness tinged with sadness.
I met Eamon in the early sixties in Rathcabbin Hall, north Tipperary, where he and others were teaching ceili dancing to a huge group including myself. Eamon hailed from Birr, Co Offaly, where he taught set and ceili dancing in the eighties and nineties and called the dances at all the ceilis in Birr up to more recent times.
The last few years of his life were spent in a nursing home where he had constant visitors from the set dance community who kept him informed of all the goings on. Eamon was pre-deceased by his wife Marie by seven months. May his generous soul rest in peace.
Mary McGeeney, Ballinderry, Co Tipperary
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
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