last updated 27 September 2006
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews - Volume 34

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

The bus arrived

Dear editor,

On behalf of the residents in St Raphael’s and particularly in Ivy Way House and the Willows, I write to thank all the Ibiza ’05 group who contributed and helped collect and count €4,400 for the specially adapted wheelchair vehicle for use by the residents. Thank you most sincerely for your generous contribution.

Having a vehicle contributes enormously to their quality of life and facilitates them with outings for shopping, sightseeing and other social events. We are delighted to inform you we have reached our goal and the bus arrived. The vehicle was delivered on April 5th and I enclose photos with Brigid [known to dancers as Bobbie] taking the first trip! We are most grateful to Brigid and to all of her friends for the success of this fundraising.

With every best wish.

Yours sincerely,

Brother Laurence Kearns, director, and Bobbie Keenan
St John of God Kildare Services, St Raphael's, Celbridge, Co Kildare

Encore performance

Hello Bill,

I was told to send you some pix below from our recent visit to an area retirement community.

The East Side Irish American Club of Cleveland’s set dancers visited a local retirement community called Aspen Woodside Village in Bedford Heights, Ohio, on March 19, 2006.

We started with our resident bagpiper, Larry Bachtel, leading us in with the Gay Gordons. We talked about the music and dance culture of Ireland and danced two sets for the crowd. Between sets, our dancers Maureen Maguire and Maureen Reich played a few traditional tunes.

The residents enjoyed the visit, asked for an encore performance and invited us to come back soon.

Our dancers were Larry and Kathy Bachtel, Kerry Coughlin, Rose Coyne, Maureen Maguire, Mary Beth Perry, Kathy Murphy and Maureen Reich. We were also joined by Larry Taylor who explained the steps to the seniors as we danced.

Everyone enjoyed the day, especially our dancers.

Thank you for your wonderful website.

Maureen Reich, Cleveland, Ohio

Inspiring the newcomers

Dear Bill,

Could you please pass on our thanks to everyone who joined us from all around England, Scotland, Ireland and Europe at the first Hexham set dance weekend back in March. There was a wonderful atmosphere with great dancing, music, teaching and calling. Special thanks to Pat Murphy for his hard work and for inspiring the newcomers with his knowledge of and enthusiasm for set dancing. Hope to see you all in 2007.

Thanks again,

Dave Mann, Vivien Hubbuck and John Colman

On the right track

Hi Bill,

We would like to thank everybody that supported our very successful and first annual Costa Del Clonea weekend, 7–9 April, Clonea, Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

We were certainly taken aback with how friendly and helpful everybody was. Thanks to all for the patience ye had while we called the sets and for not complaining that we called sets that maybe are not danced at every ceili. We aimed at trying out a few different sets and the feedback seemed to indicate we were on the right track.

We were also so proud to dance the Clashmore Set which was not danced for many a year now. This set is new to set dancers and being taught now all over. One of our local dancers, Angela McCarthy, gave it to us at Christmas and we had some great fun learning it. Clashmore is a beautiful little village in Co Waterford with the nicest people you could ever meet. Angela told me it brought a tear to her eye to see seventeen sets dancing it without a bother.

We would also like to thank Aidan Vaughan, Pat Walsh and Michael Sexton, Tim Joe and Anne and the Glenside. None of this would have been possible without a venue which was provided by Clonea Strand Hotel, so thanks to the management and staff.

Already we are organizing next year’s weekend, which is going to be held again in Clonea Strand Hotel on 30 and 31 March and 1 April. Thanks, Bill, keep up the wonderful work. Below is just a little poem to show our appreciation to everybody.


Helen Crotty and Paddy KealyDungarvan, Co Waterford

Costa Del Clonea
Lets do it, we said, we’ll run a weekend,
Sure, see how it goes, it’s going to fall during Lent.
Down to the hotel, try and work out a deal,
Allright, says the manager, Will this include a meal?

Ok, now for the bands, why not ring Michéal and Pat?
Sure, we’ll be there. We would certainly like that!
What about Tim Joe and his lovely wife Anne?
For Saturday night they said, yes, of course we can.

So far, so good, that just leaves Sunday to fill in,
Now the Glenside band, wouldn’t they be the thing?
A workshop also would go down a treat,
What about Aidan Vaughan? He has light fantastic feet.

Flyers and flyers till we’re blue in the face.
Look, please take one anyway, just in case.
Bill Lynch we need you, get this in your news.
When everybody reads it, sure we cannot lose.

Costa Del Clonea down by the sea,
Relax in the hotel or book into a B&B.
Booked and arranged a year in advance,
Everything doubled checked, nothing left to chance.

It all came around so very, very fast,
That weekend we planned is here at last.
They start to arrive and settle themselves in,
We are going to have a ball now, so let’s begin.

We danced the Slíabh Luachra, the Cashel, the Corofin,
We even had a go at the Polka Borlin.
We danced the North Kerry, the Labasheeda, the Clare Lancers
We went through them all, we took no chances.

For the Derradda, the Plain, the Clare Orange and Green,
The likes of this dancing has never been seen.
To the West Kerry, Mazurka and the Clashmore Set,
The delight of these dancers has yet to be met.

The whole weekend brought nothing but pleasure,
Comments from all, saying it was right up to measure.
Paddy and his bulls eyes went down a treat!
“Sure I like to have one for everyone I meet.”

We made lots of friends from the set dancing scene,
From Dublin to London, and even Cahirciveen.
Alas! The Costa Del Clonea had come to a close,
A very good venue it was that we chose.

Thanks to the staff of the Hotel Clonea,
And to our very good friends that served ye the cuppa tea.
Thanks to everybody that joined in the fun,
God spare us our health and another we’ll run.

So Paddy and I have achieved our great goal,
Already we are waiting for next year to roll.

The Costa Del Clonea duo, Helen and Paddy

Who could forget?

Hi Bill,

The thirteenth Laura Duffy set dancing weekend took place in the beautiful An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, from March 24th to March 26th. The large attendance enjoyed sets, two-hand dances and ceili. An Grianán is the education college for the ICA (Irish Countrywomen’s Association). The staff are really super and who could forget the scrumptious meals? It’s a wonder we could dance at all! We all departed after lunch on Sunday with many goodbyes and hopes to meet again next year. Thank you, Laura, for a lovely break.

Josie O'Rourke, Granard, Co Longford

Portmagee meets Prague

Dear Bill,

At the end of March this year I travelled to Prague at the invitation of the set dance section of Prague Coisceim dance group.

The welcome I received was fantastic. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality. We managed a set dance workshop on Sunday and learnt the South Kerry Set and Portmagee Meserts.

My special thanks must go to Helena Janousova the section leader who acted as translator during the tuition.

It was also a great pleasure to meet old friend, Honza Hora, Blanka Vicenova and Irena Samcova who had danced with us in Portmagee.

Once again I must offer my thanks to all in Prague for their hospitality.

Yours truly,

Julian Stracey, Portmagee, Co Kerry

In memory of Theresa Feeney

While her many friends mourn the sad, untimely passing of Theresa Feeney, Fortfield, Castlebar, Co Mayo, they will also retain many happy memories of a truly outstanding person. Set dancers everywhere who shared her enthusiasm for ceili, sets, two-hand and solo routines will remember her joyous energy on the dance floor. Even when ill, Theresa still attended ceilis and classes to enjoy the music and watch the action. The large number of set dancers in the guard of honour at her funeral was a warm tribute to a much-loved fellow traveller.

Her dedication to the day job and to the many other causes she cherished was equally exemplary. A lover of “all things great and small”, she was a long time member of Birdwatch Ireland, an involvement which took her to lectures and outdoor events from Mayo to the Arctic region. For years she was a key figure in promoting the annual Castlebar Four Day Walks and participated regularly in many long distance walk programmes at home and abroad. At work or play Theresa knew no half measures.

“Been there, done that” befits her varied and active lifestyle, yet she found time to support caring groups like the MS Society or charities such as Bóthar.

But above all else it is her outstanding courage and optimism in the face of adversity that most inspired us. Theresa suffered the early loss of her husband Frank and soon after came the death of her only daughter Valerie at fifteen years of age. Yet she bore her own slow life-sapping illness with supreme courage. Never one to complain, she even managed to attend the recent Pontoon set dancing weekend and from her wheelchair drew the prize winning tickets.

We know we echo her own sentiments as we say thanks to all her carers and a special thanks to the management and staff of the Blackrock retirement home, Foxford, where she quietly passed away on Wednesday morning, May 3rd 2006.

The Autumn winds rushing
Waft the leaves that are searest,
But our flower was in flushing
When blighting was nearest.

Sincere sympathy to her sisters, nieces and nephew.

Ar dheis dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

Sean Burke, Ballinderreen, Co Galway, on behalf of Belcarra Set Dancing Club

Josie Kilkenny

It is with deep regret that we make known the death of Josie Kilkenny of Knight’s Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo. Josie was a highly esteemed and much loved person in the Castlebar and Belcarra areas. She attended Belcarra set dancing classes for many years and was a great supporter of the Saturday night ceilis all through the county. Josie always enjoyed the fun and craic and was a treat to be around. She was very dedicated to her family and gained great satisfaction from their many achievements; they are a very talented traditional Irish music family. A large crowd turned out for her funeral for both days and a guard of honour was formed by her many set dancing friends and numerous other clubs from the area. Josie was predeceased by her husband John some years ago. She left a great void in the lives and hearts of her family and friends.

To her sons John, Ciarán, Noel and daughters Linda, Stephanie, Siobhán and all of Josie’s family and friends we extend deepest sympathy from all of the set dancing community. May her gentle soul rest in peace.

Maureen Cunningham, Belcarra Set Dancing Club

World first - more blokes than sheilas at Aussie class

What is the secret to this class held in Lyneham, Canberra, that regularly has more men than women coming to it? A class where men regularly have to sit down and wait their turn, or worse, dance with another man if they want to shake a leg?

For the Monday night class of fifteen to twenty people, there are regularly at least two more men than women. More men than women turning up for a class is a strange and unusual phenomenon in the world of set dancing, and probably in most other styles of dancing.

So, this intrepid reporter down under asked a few of the regulars who come to the class what the secret to bringing more men really is—

Trish: “It’s the lovely women that come to the class that really draw the men. Why would they want to go anywhere else?”

Jenny: “I agree. What other kind of dancing can you go to and have such an abundance of talent? Oh, and the supper is pretty good too.”

Martin: “Yeah, we have at least five different sorts of biscuits, and what else would a man need, except for a pint, of course? Let me make it clear, though, there’s no drinking in this hall. Well, at least not while the class is actually running.”

Peter: “I think the women in this class are absolutely gorgeous. And they look a whole lot better if the lights aren’t too bright and you’ve had a few drinks.”

John: “Well, I enjoy dancing with the other men, really. Gives you a break from those women, their scrapey bracelets and their pointy heels—who needs it? Give me a good fine grip of another strong man anyday.”

Other members of the class declined to comment so as not to incriminate themselves. So folks, in summary, not much of a consensus about what brings the men except to say that people are happy to swing both ways!

Happy dancing!

Nora Stewart, Kaleen, ACT Australia


The Johnny Reidy diet

A leaner, fitter Johnny Reidy has been smiling down on us from the stage at ceilis lately. The ace accordion player from Castleisland, Co Kerry, has lost two and half stone (16kg) in the past year with a diet that’s so simple and effective that other dancers have become interested in following it.

It started when Johnny was playing with his band in Ibiza in 2005. Normally, whenever he finished a ceili, Johnny would usually stop on his way home for a big meal. However, there was no opportunity for him to do this after his ceilis ended in Ibiza, so he went without the late night feed for the week.

On his return home, Johnny discovered that he’d lost half a stone. He made his mind up to continue the Ibiza regime and after 6pm each day ate nothing further until the next morning. He has a big breakfast and eats what he wants the rest of the day, but when six o’clock comes he’s finished with food. He’s kept strictly to the diet ever since.

That’s all there is to the Johnny Reidy diet—no need to change the foods you eat or begin a programme of exercise, just cut out the late night snacks. Johnny’s weight went down slowly and steadily, and his waist has decreased from 42 to 36 inches. He’s delighted with his progress and has begun to acquire a new trimmer wardrobe as a result.

Good work, Johnny!

Ann's 1600 mile pilgrimage

Ann Milner is a set dancer and Set Dancing News reader in Hitchen, Hertfordshire, England, who is in the midst of a remarkable journey. Ann is travelling from Santiago de Compostela in Spain to Rome, Italy, to raise money for charity, and she’s walking the entire way on foot, more than 1600 miles. Most of her route follows the ancient roads of religious pilgrims, though Ann is making her way in the opposite direction.

Ann is a Dubliner who never walked farther than the pub. Her first pilgrimage from Cornwall to Spain was completed in stages between 2002 and 2004. When she arrived in Santiago she was asked if she’d ever do another pilgrimage. She answered, “Absolutely no way,” but two years later has undertaken an even longer walk which involves crossing both the Pyrenees and the Alps. Ann began her walk on March 30th and her arrival in Rome is expected sometime in August, though she is running at least a week behind her original schedule.

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, you can read keep up with Ann’s progress on her web site, Her frequent diary entries are detailed, amusing and thoughtful, and enable everyone to share her experience.

Ann is collecting funds for her charities which aid homeless and disadvantaged people in Hertfordshire and England. Contributions can be made through Ann’s web site. If you’d like to help but don’t have web access please contact Bill Lynch for more information on the charities.

New Nyah CD

Cavan accordion player Martin Donohoe’s has finally come out with a new solo CD thirteen years after recording his first one. The new one is called Tasty Touches and is twice as good as his first one from 1993, Free Spirit, because it includes two disks and 41 tracks. Martin has a magic touch with his accordion and produces music with real feeling and emotion. He shares the CD with dozens of musicians, singers and a couple of dancers, Irene and Brian Cunningham from Galway. Martin is the main organiser of the Nyah festival held annually in Cavan and played in session during the Cavan set dancing weekend last February. His web site is With a double CD out, Martin might now be inclined to wait 26 years for the follow-up; let’s hope not!

The music of fiddler Kevin Roche, along with his partner Jane Lombard, keeps the set dancers of Halifax, Nova Scotia, very satisfied indeed. He and Jane play for set dancing every Sunday afternoon in the Old Triangle Pub and for the annual Easter set dancing weekend. When not playing for set dancing you’ll find him in sessions around Halifax. He has the strong, strident style common in the province and makes great dance music. Unusually, there’s no fiddle to be heard on his new CD, The Downpour, his first one, with a cover by Jane. Instead Kevin proves himself to be an equally strong master of the mandolin. Contact Kevin by emailing

Sympathy to the Smyth family

Deepest sympathy to Ciarán and Mary Smyth and family, Delvin, Co Westmeath, on the tragic death of their daughter Patricia, only 21 years, following a road accident near Athboy, Co Meath, on Wednesday morning, 9th August. Her mother Mary is on the Delvin Hall ceili committee and she makes the lovely apple tarts and flans for all the ceili dancers.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

Thinking and praying for you, Mary, from your set dancing friends.

Patsy Finn, Mullingar, Co Westmeath

Off and running in Cavan

New set dancing weekends sometimes take a few years to get a good momentum going, but the first set dancing weekend held in Cavan town, Co Cavan, from the 10th to the 12th of February was an immediate success. The Dancing in the Drumlins (Drumlins are small oval hills formed beneath glaciers and are a common geological feature of Co Cavan) weekend took place in the Cavan Crystal Hotel, a posh new establishment on the edge of town. On arrival I admired the red brick exterior and the bright and lofty lobby. The rooms were conveniently supplied with ironing facilities and dressing gowns, and judging by all the set dancers I spotted in dressing gowns in the hallways there must have been a lot of ironing going on.

The hotel appears to have been designed with dancing in mind because there are timber floors in several of the public rooms. The main ballroom on the lower level has a fine floor which could probably handle about thirty sets, and there’s even an adjacent room which could take an overflow of up to ten sets. When the dancing began here on Friday night, no one had any idea how many dancers would show up, but once the ceili was underway, we filled the main floor with a few extra sets in the room at the back, totalling around 25 sets.

Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh gave great pleasure to the crowd with their dynamic music, beginning with the Corofin Plain Set. They surprised us at the end of the night. The final Plain Set began normally and the music stopped as expected after the first figure. Then without any warning after the second figure the music kept going and we kept dancing. No one was sure whether they’d keep going after the following figures, but they even changed to jigs and back to reels again without losing a beat. After all that excitement, we were ready for the national anthem, but Micheál and Pat gave each other a glance and then launched into a bonus rake of reels. The new weekend was off to a fine start.

Workshops on Saturday offered a choice of set and sean nós dancing. Gerard Butler warmed up the dancers in his set dancing workshop with the Connemara Set, and then taught the Fintown, Borlin and Claddagh sets. Ger also showed us a set he collected from an old Roscommon dancer called the North Roscommon Set. It uses a Roscommon-style of step, but a variation which is unique to this set. At the end of the day there was a request to repeat the third figure of the Claddagh Set—people are keen to learn and dance this complicated figure. Meanwhile, Kathleen ­McGlynn’s sean nós workshop was too popular for the smaller room adjacent to the ballroom and so the sixty or so dancers shifted to a lovely hall on an upper floor. When they finished class for the day, Kathleen came down to the set workshop and gave an exhibition of her steps, and Gerard did the same after that.

The ceili on Saturday featured the music of Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan, except that Anne was replaced by Allen Coulihan for the night. Tim Joe was as responsive as ever to the dancers, silencing the box at exactly the right moment to emphasise a batter or a shout. Two workshop sets were danced, the Fintown and Claddagh, plus a selection of two-hands and waltzes, and there was another non-stop Plain Set to finish. This time Ger Butler asked everyone at the end of the first figure if we wanted to keep going and the answer was clear. Then as each of the following figures ended, Tim Joe reminded us to keep going.

The success of the weekend’s workshops was clear from the large number of dancers who showed up on Sunday morning to learn something new. Marian Crowe, a local teacher and an organiser of the weekend, taught the local Cavan Reel Set to about eight sets of dancers in the smaller upstairs hall. The set will forever be known for its complicated footwork, but Marian started off by teaching just the figures and having us dance them to ordinary reel steps. We danced all three figures, including the rarely seen second figure to polkas. It would be lovely to see this set danced at ceilis rather than only in competition, and the best chance of that is to concentrate on the figures rather than steps. Once people are used to the figures, the steps will follow. Nevertheless, once we’d practiced the figures a couple times, Marian gathered us in a big circle to learn the steps. We did them without music, with slow music, with fast music, and then in sets dancing the figures. We practiced and practiced, took a short break and then practiced some more. We must have danced the set through six or more times and it made for an exhilarating morning of dancing.

At the same time, 120 dancers were learning two-hand dances with Marie Garrity in the main ballroom, which clearly demonstrated the popularity of this form of Irish dance. Marie taught the Highland, Back-to-Back Hornpipe, White Heather Foxtrot and several others and everyone was delighted with the experience.

The Davey Ceili Band played some brilliant music for the Sunday afternoon ceili. Beginning with the Lancers and including a high-energy Borlin Polka Set. During a break, Cavan’s famous lilter, Seamus Fay, gave us a few of his tunes, and Marian Crowe hopped out to dance sean nós steps to his music. With the final Connemara Set the dancing ended and I noticed highly satisfied smiles on faces everywhere, including my own!

There were a few additional touches that enhanced everyone’s enjoyment of the weekend. Cavan box player Martin Donohoe led sessions in the lobby throughout the weekend, so there was always a bit of music before and after the ceilis. The hotel laid on soup, sandwiches, tea and coffee for lunch in the bar, and stylish food was served up for more substantial meals in the luxurious restaurant. After my weekend of Dancing in the Drumlins I went home with a high that kept my mind in Cavan for days afterward. I look forward to many more years of dancing there.

Bill Lynch

Foot-tapping Termonfeckin

The fourth annual set dancing weekend at An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, began on Friday 20th January and got off to a flying start with the launch of Pádraig McEneany’s Faois Do Chois, a CD and DVD plus instruction booklet, by the Triskell Ceili Band and Pádraig and his wife Róisín. There are four sets in the package, the Fermanagh, Connemara, Durrow Threshing and Sligo Lancers. The band Triskell is featured in it and three of the McEvoy family from Louth play in the band. One of them is Mairéad who composed a very lively danceable jig for the fifth part of the Durrow Threshing Set. This and part of the Fermanagh Set were danced at the launch by Pádraig and his group. John McEvoy (father of Mairéad) joined them also.

John and his wife Sheila, with Jim Finegan and his wife, organise the weekend and are ably assisted by the staff of An Grianán. The meals and accommodation are excellent and the huge crowd present at the weekend were greatly pleased with everything.

The music at the Friday night ceili was by the Triskell band who played fine lively music for all the sets, the Plain, Newport, Mazurka, Cashel, Fermanagh, Kilfenora and some two-hand dances. Kathleen McGlynn did some sean nós dancing and Celine Tubridy and a large group did the Priest and His Boots.

A large group attended the set workshop on Saturday by Pádraig McEneany. The sets were the Fermanagh, Durrow and Jenny Ling. Celine Tubridy conducted a class on traditional step dancing in the drawing room. A large number learned the jig and the hornpipe. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn taught sean nós dancing in the gym to a huge crowd who enjoyed it immensely. Many returned after dinner and we finished with some two-hand dances which were great and relaxing.

Mass was at 8pm and John McEvoy arranged lifts to the church for those who needed them. The Mass and singing at the church were beautiful with a very warm welcome to us all from the celebrant.

The ceili music on Saturday night was by the Davey Ceili Band who kept the dancers on their toes all night with great lively music. There was another large crowd and the sets were ably called by John McEvoy.

Sunday morning began with a revision class at 10am and after tea at 11am the Sunday morning session took place. This was a grand relaxing time in the Kellogg Hall and was most enjoyable. There was a great mixture of songs, recitations and dancing—great craic. Mrs McEvoy (John’s mother) sang a song in a fine clear voice, followed by a German and an Irish song by Roisín McEneany and a few English songs. Celine Tubridy danced a reel, Kathleen McGlynn did some sean-nós steps and Roisín and Pádraig danced a hornpipe. Then we had some fun recitations and songs and enjoyed the entertainment immensely.

Dinner was at 1pm, a lovely appetising meal and the final ceili was at 2pm. Swallow’s Tail played for this and it was terrific, foot tapping music. Again there was a great crowd, a great atmosphere the whole weekend with hardly a hitch from the beginning to the end.

Indeed it was a most enjoyable weekend in every way and it was greatly appreciated by the huge crowd who attended from different parts of the country. It is one of the best weekends in all the country and long may it continue.

Chris Gleeson, Kilfinane, Co Limerick

A few lines about Omagh

When I was asked to pen a few words about the workshop weekend in Omagh, Co Tyrone, 27-29 January, I initially refused, thinking that as a dancer of only a couple of years, there were people much better qualified than I who would know what they were talking about. After all I can hardly yet do a proper battered step. Well, they persisted and I finally agreed to write a few lines.

The weekend opened with a ceili in the Silver Birch Hotel which was packed out with visitors from Galway, Mayo, Longford, Portrush and places in between. I was talking to a couple from Bangor, Co Down, who told me they were staying five miles out of town, as they couldn’t get anything closer! The start of the ceili was delayed a little as some of the local dancers had been asked to do a sets demonstration for a large over-fifties do in an adjoining room. When we finally got going it was to the fantastic music of Copper Plate, a local ceili band who have gone from strength to strength. Enda, Eamonn and Brian (box keyboard and banjo) have a great lift to their playing and are now much in demand. They generated a great atmosphere in the hall. There was some added variety as Donna Logue sang and accompanied herself on the guitar—a lovely voice and some nice waltz music. As the crowd broke up visitors staying at the hotel received welcome packs made up by Omagh Council including maps and detailing the local walks, flora and fauna, geography and things to do. These were very popular and there is one still in my car for a visiting dancer who didn’t get one!

The next day saw the ever popular Pat Murphy take us through some lesser known sets (for us in the North) in Dun Uladh Heritage Centre, including the Lusmagh (Offaly), Clashmore (Waterford), Roscahill (Galway), Cratyloe (a newly revived set from west Limerick) and East Galway sets. Marie Garrity has since taken us through the very lively East Galway at class a few times so we should have some idea how to dance it again.

On Saturday night the Davey Ceili Band played to a packed hall and a great crowd in Dun Uladh, with 22 sets on the floor at one stage. That was a three-shirter for me! I almost thought I was back on the Armada floor which I did for the first time last July. I was pleased that the Dun Uladh staff had seen to it that any flaws in the floor had been fixed. The atmosphere was fantastic. A number of our beginners turned up and reported later that they had got up a couple of times and had an absolute ball! Outside the Armada I have never seen so many smiles, heard so many whoops and yells.

At waltz time a lady came up to me and asked if I was free. I said, “yes, but I don’t do waltzes.” But I was willing to try. I had gone to a dance class at fifteen, many years ago, for five weeks and thought I’d have an attempt. I was so ungainly but she moved so lightly and was so gracious about my lack of art I thought I would have to learn. Sometime, I promised myself. Came the quickstep and I made my apologies. Sorry to let a nice lady down!

Back in Dun Uladh Sunday morning and our class teacher Marie Garrity took us through some of her repertoire of two-handed dances. What a lovely way to start the day. I have noticed going through Set Dancing News how very much she is in demand for these dances. She often finishes our class with one of these dances, recently the Back-to-Back Hornpipe or the two-handed Polly Glide. A nice way to finish a hectic evening.

The farewell ceili in the afternoon with the Emerald Ceili Band was great as there was a wee bit more room on the floor. Many had stayed home for the milking. From my point of view as a continuing learner this was fine! The band had great tempo and were very lively. My usual Ballyvourney Jig partner wasn’t there, alas, so I asked another lady. Wow, could she shift! All I can say is, thanks P from Magheralin!

I was so pleased by the number of folk who came up to me and other ordinary club members and thanked us for the hospitality. I was surprised at how many had come from so far away. Paul Cairns thought it would be a good idea to stick up a map of Ireland so people could pin their names with their own town on it. The prize-winner was Tony Ryan from Galway. Thanks, Tony for coming so far.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time meeting so many from Mayo, Longford, Leitrim, Antrim, Dublin, Galway, Sligo, Louth, Belfast and other parts who made this a memorable weekend for me.

Michael Cooney, Omagh, Co Tyrone

Thanks for writing the article, Michael. Note to all readers—you don’t have to be an experienced dancer to write a good report!

One big happy family

I really enjoy Gertrude Byrne’s All-Star Irish Caribbean Cruises because they are so well organised and have the best of entertainment. The cruise from February 19 to 27 was my third cruise and I have also been to Gertie’s Irish weekend in the Nevele Grande Hotel, Ellenville, New York. Everybody knew my name, because most of the people keep coming back again and again, thus proving this is truly a well-organised event. It’s like we are all one big happy family.

The hardest part of the trip was the flying to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the cruise starts and ends. One cannot get a direct flight from Ireland so you’ll have at least one stop. Flights and accommodation in Fort Lauderdale are not part of the cruise package and have to be organised by yourself.

Once you get on board you don’t have to worry about anything; everything you need is done for you. You don’t even have to worry about money—everything is prepaid except for drink which will be charged to your room key, and you get the bill at the end of the week. I could get to like that lifestyle very quickly.

This year we cruised the eastern Caribbean aboard the MS Westerdam with stops in the Bahamas and US Virgin Islands for a total of 2,246 nautical miles. On board we had almost 1,950 passengers and 801 crew.

We boarded the ship on Sunday 19th February. The first event at 3.45pm was the lifeboat drill which was mandatory for all passengers and at 5.15 we had the sailaway party. Dinner dress was casual, but no shorts, tank tops, swimwear or workout attire. At 9pm was the first ceili of the cruise with excellent music provided by the Four Courts Ceili Band until midnight.

On Monday we were docked in Nassau, the Bahamas, from 8am to 2pm and were free to visit the fort, zoo and other sights of the town. Between 2 and 4pm as we sailed away there was a ceili with the Four Courts on the ship’s top deck. The dress was formal for dinner—jacket and tie for men. From 9.30pm to 12.30am there was a ceili with the brilliant duo of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh.

Tuesday was spent at sea. Tony Ryan taught a morning set dancing class and Micheál and Pat played for an afternoon ceili. After a cocktail party and dinner (informal dress) the Four Courts played for the ceili that night. The two bands shared afternoon and night ceilis the rest of the week. On Wednesday the ship was docked for the day in St Thomas, Virgin Islands, and in Philipsburg, St Maarten, on Thursday. Friday was another day at sea and there was a workshop with Tony.

On Saturday the ship stopped at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, an island owned by the Holland America Line which operates the ship. It is a very peaceful place, with lovely long beaches, and horses and water sports are available. Most of the entertainers got off here and did a short party piece. There was also a barbecue on the island. It was so peaceful nobody wanted to leave it! The next day, Sunday 26 February, the ship returned to Fort Lauderdale to finish the cruise.

In addition to the two ceili bands, the entertainment line-up included many performers, including P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon, Brendan Grace, Brendan Shine and the Irish Sopranos. There was something to suit all tastes. I find this a very safe type of holiday. All ages are on board, from as young as nine months (there were two infants—Brendan Shine’s and Gertrude Byrne’s grandchildren) up to 80 and beyond. The ship was like being in New York—the city that never sleeps.

John Finbarr Crowley

Craicing Erlangen

There is an expression, “once seen never forgotten,” and equally, “once experienced never forgotten,” which came to mind at a mighty set dance workshop on 17-19 February—Erlangen is forever imprinted on our minds and spirits!

What a craicing weekend, from the warm and welcoming Andrea Forstner and her family, to the best set dance instructor going, Herr Pat Murphy, plus the mad keen set dancers coming from near and far, a cosy friendly hall, great ceili band Greenfield, superb organization and the beautiful town of Erlangen itself.

We began with a workshop cum get-together on the Friday evening from 6.30 to 8.30pm, warming up those itchy set dance feet by dancing the Lusmagh Set (Co Offaly) and the Aran Set (Co Galway). It was then necessary to restore the sugar levels so a short walk took us to an old-style pub and restaurant called the Alter Simpl, meaning the Ol’ Eejit. One had the choice of sitting around a really big table for about twenty people or in little corners, the decoration was absolutely unique and the food very good, not forgetting the traditional German beer! (If you think a pint is big, then lifting a Bavarian litre glass is a real challenge!) Once Andrea got going space suddenly appeared for one set on the old wooden springy floor. (She would do well in the furniture removal business!) What more could a travelling set dancer ask for, so with the customary “I’ll step in again and you’ll step out again,” people took their turn at getting up to dance the Ballyvourney Jig, etc.

The Saturday morning workshop saw us again in the same beautiful Gothic hall for 9.30am. The Lovely slidy floor was filled nearly to capacity with eight sets. Pat took us through the Lispole Set and the Tory Island Set and, as always, further adding to our education with his interesting manner of telling us all about the origin of the sets. One has often heard that laughter is the best medicine, and without a doubt much laughter filled the air all weekend. At lunchtime the dancers headed off for a meal in one of Erlangen’s many pubs and restaurants, all within a short walking distance.

The afternoon continued with us dancing the lovely Clashmore Set from Co Waterford followed by the Seit Dhoire Cholmcille. Pat guided everybody safely through the tricky parts of the dances and everybody, even beginners, could follow his clear instructions. Pat mentioned how wonderful it was to have so many different people from different places here together, particularly so many new dancers, and how set dancing is all about people and that it is most important that new dancers are helped, encouraged and made welcome by everybody.

And then there was the ceili with great music played by Greenfield. They are all local musicians who have brought out their own CD, which after the ceili people were queuing up to buy. The versatile lady on the keyboard by the name of Joan Croker hails from Limerick and is now lecturing on music at the University in Erlangen. Joan couldn’t resist the dancing and finally joined us in a set on the floor! Later we were treated to another of Andrea’s great ideas, an exhibition by the Barokgruppe dancers of Erlangen, all elegantly costumed in Baroque dress. Talk about a quick change, for there was Frau Andrea now dressed as Herr Andrea (some things will never change!) taking part in a dance from the eighteenth century with a big similiarity to todays sets. This was danced at the court of Ludwig the Fourth in France; the steps then however were very artificial and complicated. The Waltz Cotillion dates from that era so we all danced it together afterwards along with the Baroque dance group. Pat very kindly called the sets we had learnt that weekend and we also danced our way through favourites such as the Kilfenora, Plain, Connemara, Sliabh Luachra, Ballyvourney Jig and more. The ceili officially ended at 12.30am with people scattering to continue elsewhere.

Sunday morning saw most people present and Pat led us throught the East Galway Set, long version, (no shortcuts for this gentleman) with wonderful steps and movements once you got the hang of it. This was followed by the Black Valley Square Jig Set, so you can see that we danced a great variety of sets over the weekend.

As Andrea was driving Pat Murphy to Frankfurt for his flight home that afternoon she arranged that those of us who were still around could accompany them on a visit to Nürnberg. What a magnificent town, thankfully our feet stood up to the sightseeing and we all got to make a wish on the golden ring! Our sincere thanks to Andrea for bringing the tradition of Irish music and dance to her corner of the world and for inviting us all along to such a marvellous weekend.

Mary Butler and Gerrie Paulus, Luxembourg

Killarney's polka pleasures

The long Gathering weekend in Killarney, Co Kerry, took place a week earlier than in previous years, from Wednesday to Sunday, February 15th to 19th. It was shifted forward a week because the Gleneagle Hotel and the Irish National Events Centre (INEC) were booked for the World Indoor Tug of War Championships on the last weekend of the month. It made no difference except that we had one less week to wait for one of the best music and dance events of the year.

The Gathering’s ceilis took place in four different venues over the five days, which made for a nice bit of variety. The opening ceili was on Wednesday in Scartaglen, about twenty minutes from Killarney deep in the heart of Sliabh Luachra. A coach brought out the visitors staying in the hotel and the locals managed to find their own way here, resulting in an international mix of dancers in the hall. The music was pure Sliabh Luachra thanks to Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan, who played a selection of sets which alternated between reels and polkas.

When the Sliabh Luachra Set was called, I found myself in a set dancing it in the Scartaglen style. For the fourth figure I was instructed to turn my partner around the set instead of turning her in place. The fifth figure was danced with Ballyvourney-style squares instead of a slide and change. The variations made it even livelier than usual. The ceili finished with the Plain Set. Tim Joe asked if we wanted to stop after each figure and there was a resounding “No!” in response at the end of the first three figures, though we did have a break before and after the jig figure.

The ceili on Thursday night took place in the Gleneagle ballroom following a concert of Sliabh Luachra music. Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh played reels in their beautiful Clare style, and they played a seemingly unlimited selection of polkas, slides and jigs as though they were Sliabh Luachra natives. After the ceili, Micheál, from Mullagh, Co Clare, admitted that polkas don’t come naturally to Clare musicians. To get familiar with the music, he and Pat collected all the polkas they could find and listened to them every chance they had, especially when driving. This gave them a strong appreciation for the music and enough of a repertoire for a ceili full of polka sets. The reaction of the crowd tonight was a tribute to Micheál and Pat’s mastery of the music.

On Friday afternoon there was a small relaxed ceili in the hotel’s Mangerton Suite, a ballroom with space for a dozen sets. Music was by Johnny Cronin on box, Paddy Jones on fiddle and John Coakley on piano. Their style was very laid back, but that was deceptive because the dancing was actually quite fast. As at all the previous ceilis, there was strict alternation between reels and polkas, including the Borlin and Ballyvourney Reel. Joining the sets were several children who enjoyed the dancing as much as the adults.

I heard the Allow Ceili Band for the first time at the Friday night ceili. They’re a ten-piece band from Freemount, Co Cork, who came close to winning the All-Ireland ceili band competition several times in the last few years. They had that big band sound but were well able to play polkas fast enough for the Cork and Kerry dancers. The crowd at the ceili would have fitted nicely into the spacious INEC, but unfortunately a concert was taking place there, so a huge number of dancers filled the ballroom. During the Plain Set the floor was packed full of sets, and still there were dozens of dancers sitting out who couldn’t get onto the floor. Luckily it was a bit less crowded during the polka sets. Even so the atmosphere was excellent and everyone showed great enjoyment of the music. When the band played a few waltzes, their eleventh member, the singer, joined them on stage, and she also sang the national anthem at the end of the ceili.

Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey have taught at every Gathering, so this was their seventh visit to Killarney. They taught in the INEC and the very first thing they did was bring out a row of chairs onto the floor to confine us to one half of the huge floor. They taught three sets in the morning, the South Kerry, Fintown, Roscahill and Fermanagh Quadrilles. For the demonstrations, Mick requested “the eight best dancers in the hall,” who were rather slow to come forward. Everyone stood to attention while watching the demonstrations. Mick and Mairéad spent the afternoon on the Clare Orange and Green Set, and this time everyone sat down to watch the figures. At the end of the afternoon there was time for another chance at the Fintown Set.

The Saturday night ceili was in the INEC so there was no worry about finding space to dance. When the doors opened, there was a long queue waiting to get in, and their first priority was finding a seat. Chairs were in short supply on the main floor and someone discovered a supply of them high up on the second balcony, so there was an amazing sight of folks streaming down two flights of steps carrying two chairs apiece. Fortunately the hotel staff soon took over chair duty. Once the rousing music of Heather Breeze Ceili Band started up chairs were abandoned and sets were formed. The five members of the band were togged out in their best outfits and gave a superb performance. Ann Mangan was on stage for some discreet calling; when trying to find a a partner for a woman, she asked for a “man or manette” to help fill the set. Among the sets we danced were the Newport, South Galway, Claddagh and Clare Orange and Green.

Timmy McCarthy was teaching workshops at the Gathering for the first time this weekend. On Saturday he taught a workshop for beginners, and on Sunday while Mick and Mairéad taught sean nós dancing, Timmy gave a fast-paced and entertaining workshop of Cork and Kerry sets. After dancing the Sliabh Luachra and Ballyvourney Reel, Timmy had the bright idea of teaching Hurry the Jug, his most complicated and enjoyable dance. The movements are like a ceili dance but we danced it to slides in a Sliabh Luachra style, which was immensely enjoyable. There were cheers of approval from the dancers as they successfully mastered the various movements. We got perilously close to the end of the two hour workshop and Timmy still wanted to do another set, but he wasn’t worried “so long as we have thirty seconds to dance the West Kerry!” We finished Hurry the Jug and the West Kerry and weren’t too late for lunch after that.

Johnny Reidy found the large INEC venue and its high stage a bit daunting before he began playing for the Sunday afternoon ceili, but when the music began there was only the most magical delight reaching our ears. Dancing is the closest human beings ever get to flying and Johnny and his crew had 65 sets of dancers airborne that afternoon, according to a count announced by caller Anne Keane. Every set was bliss, but especially so were the Sliabh Luachra, West Kerry and Borlin. I expended huge amounts of energy but somehow it all seemed totally effortless. It was a miracle of set dancing and a perfect ending to a great weekend.

Of course the Gathering wasn’t over yet with one last concert, but a few of us who still fancied a bit more Sliabh Luachra dancing travelled out half an hour to Knocknagree, Co Cork, for the regular Sunday night ceili in Dan O’Connell’s Pub which has been running continuously there for well more than forty years. The programme is usually the same, a polka set (the Sliabh Luachra), a waltz, another polka set and another waltz and then the jig set (the Jenny Ling). With all the visitors and locals on the floor there were seven sets, which was about as many as fit into the small hall. Music was by Michael Cronin on box and Tim Kiely on guitar, and it was full of life and fun. It was a special occasion with all the visitors, so Mike and Tim offered us an additional set, the Connemara, which we all danced with great gusto. Afterward no one showed any strong interest in going home and stayed on for some chat and a few songs.

When I made it back to the hotel the place was buzzing with sessions. There were sessions all weekend in both of the hotel’s bars, with plenty of musicians participating and abundant opportunities to dance a few figures of a set. They built up to a climax late on Sunday night when the Green Room beside the reception desk was full of folks in the best of spirits, relaxed and happy. A crowd of musicians were happily churning out reels and polkas for one set after another, and dancers found space for five or six sets on boards or tiles. There’s a lot to like about the Gathering, with good venues, great bands, excellent workshops, big crowds, plentiful sessions, beautiful town—the list goes on. What I love most is the Sliabh Luachra style of music and dancing and those seductive polka sets. I’ll be dreaming of them until my next visit to Killarney.

Bill Lynch

Louvain welcomes Kilfenora

One corner of the Belgian city of Louvain has been Irish for nearly 400 years. Louvain, or Leuven as it’s known to its Flemish residents, is a city of 88,000 people located just half an hour west of Brussels. It’s the beer capital of Belgium where Domus and Stella Artois beers are brewed; the scent of the breweries greets you as soon as you arrive in town. Louvain is a big university town—the Catholic University was founded close to 600 years ago and has 27,000 students.

In 1607 Irish friars founded a college here at a time when it was impossible to train priests at home in Ireland. Over the following two centuries, the Irish College sent hundreds of priests, plus a handful of professors, bishops and archbishops, home to Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland. The Irish friars in Louvain also made important contributions to the printing of books in the Irish language.

The French expelled the friars in 1796 following the French Revolution, and the college was only returned to them in 1925. As the number of friars declined, a new use was found for the premises with the founding in 1984 of the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe. Supported by the Irish government and the Office of Public Works, the former Irish College is now being refurbished and extended.

While a 400-year-old college for Irish priests might seem an unlikely place to dance, the third annual set dancing weekend was held here from February 24th to 26th. The Louvain Institute works well as a venue—there’s a restaurant, bar and 55 en-suite bedrooms on the premises. At the previous two weekends the ceilis and workshops occupied a small conference room, but this year a much more suitable hall was available. The former chapel has been undergoing a transformation into an auditorium and the 100 or so dancers attending were the first to make use of it since it was deconsecrated.

The work on the chapel’s refurbishment continued up to Friday afternoon, when dancers started arriving. A beautiful new oak floor filled the room, suspended at least a foot above the original stone floor. The floor had only been completed the day before and was still unfinished. To protect it from damage, we were all strictly forbidden from bringing drinks, chairs and high heels into the hall. Much other work remained to be done there as well, including the wiring and woodwork, but there were no further restrictions on our dancing.

Shortly after 8 o’clock we formed sets for the Plain Set danced to music from a recording by Michael Sexton. Jim Keenan was the weekend’s MC and teacher who led us through a few relaxed sets that evening. Jim is an Armagh native now resident in Maryland who became the local set dancing teacher when he worked for a couple years in Belgium. The dancing ended after 11pm, and most of us went upstairs to the Nod Bar, a cosy little pub on the premises. There we were treated to a session of songs and other performances by visiting and expatriate Irish and by Europeans.

Jim Keenan was back on the chapel floor at 9am on Saturday morning for an hour of teaching specifically for beginning dancers. Those of us who had done this kind of thing before had the luxury of an extra hour before the main workshop began. Jim’s challenging sets of the day were the Claddagh and the Clare Orange and Green. During the break, lunch was available for €11 in the Institute’s restaurant, with a hot dish and a selection of breads, salads, meat, cheese and fruit. Just outside and down the street there was a whole world of pubs, cafés and restaurants in the city centre.

For the first live music ceilis ever to be held in the chapel of the Irish College, the organisers Mary Brennan and Mary Fitzgerald chose a most suitable ceili band for the occasion, the Kilfenora Ceili Band. When I returned to the Institute after a meal on Saturday evening, the streets around the Institute were filled with the unmistakeable sound of the Kilfenora as they warmed up in the chapel. The dancing began at 8.30pm with a Plain Set and continued with another six or seven after that, plus some waltzes. The lively style of the band suited the reel sets, and even their Cashel Set was fast enough for those who enjoy dancing it in the Tipperary-style.

During the break in the ceili there was a raffle of prizes specifically for those wise folks who booked and paid in advance. There was also a treat for everyone with the first performance of the Louvain Set by eight local dancers. Jim Keenan specially composed the set for the 400th anniversary of the Flight of the Earls, when the O’Neills of Tyrone and O’Donnells of Donegal fled Ireland for the continent in 1607. The set’s four figures illustrate episodes of the flight—battle, flight, arrival in Louvain and scattering abroad. After the last few sets, there were words of thanks and appreciation for the organisers from Gearoid Mulrooney, who spoke on behalf of a group of thirty attending from Oranmore, Co Galway, and from John Lynch, leader of the band.

As soon as the ceili was over, the chapel emptied and the Nod Bar filled up. There was no shortage of singers in all styles, including trad, country, Percy French, and more. A young Dublin lad working behind the bar proved to be a superb singer and guitarist and Malachy Vallely, director of the Institute, even sang a Flemish song.

There was barely time for breakfast before returning to the chapel at 10.30am on Sunday morning. It wasn’t Mass which brought us here at such an early hour, but another ceili with the Kilfenora Ceili Band. The early start gave us a full three hours of dancing and still allowed plenty of time for visitors to make their way home. The dances included the Kilfenora, Cashel, Clare Orange and Green, Labasheeda and Claddagh sets. Maura Lydon fulfilled a special request for a song about a yellow JCB, her third such performance of the weekend, delivered in her own punchy singing style. The dancing ended with the Plain Set followed by the national anthem.

The new oak floor had done its job well and survived the onslaught of our dancing shoes with hardly a scuff mark on it. By the same time next year the completely refurbished chapel will make the dancing here even more of a pleasure than it was this year.

Bill Lynch

Rathkeale takes off

Rathkeale House Hotel, in the town of Rathkeale, Co Limerick, hosted the West Limerick Set Dancing Club’s annual workshop this year from 3rd to 5th March. This was the first time in several years that the club engaged a hotel for their ever successful and growing festival. The club holds their monthly ceilis in the Convent Hall in Abbeyfeale, and held most of their annual workshops there. The move to Rathkeale House Hotel proved to be very positive. Hotels are becoming the preferred locations for set dancing festivals. Dancers have the added comfort of retiring to the restaurant, bar or their rooms without facing the weather.

As usual the club spares no time or effort in ensuring that this festival is conducted to the highest standard. Once more we were privileged to have Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy as our tutors for the set dancing workshops.

The festival got underway on Friday night at 9.30pm with Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan providing the brilliant music. Timmy Woulfe welcomed everyone and assured us of a fantastic weekend. The ceili got underway with the West Limerick Set called by Timmy. He then handed the microphone over to John Joe Tierney who was our MC for the remainder of the night. We danced the Plain, Newport, Claddagh and Cashel, then had a fifteen-minute break.

During the break my attention was drawn to two lovely Italian girls who had been dancing with Peter Davis and Charlie Kiely, both from Manchester. These ladies had little or no English but were able to convey to me that they had learned set dancing from a videotape with the late Connie Ryan and Betty McCoy giving instruction. I later discovered that the name of this recording wasCome Dance With Me in Ireland, recorded approximately fifteen years ago.

The ceili resumed and dancers gathered back on the floor for the Clare Mazurka, followed by the Ballyvourney Jig and the ceili finished with the Connemara. All the 25 sets on the floor had a wonderful night. The floor space was adequate, as the club had extended the floor on to the carpet area. It was as smooth and even as the main floor. It actually had more of a spring thus lending itself to more exuberant dancing. Many dancers had travelled a considerable distance for the festival and most retired to bed soon after the ceili.

Saturday morning as ten sets gathered in the ballroom Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy began the workshop with the beautiful Paris Set, from Labasheeda in Co Clare and one of the late Dan Fury’s beloved sets. Most of the dancers in the workshop were experienced. Pat then taught the Cuilmore Set. He told us that he got this set six years ago in Westport, Co Mayo, and that it was his first time dancing this at a workshop. This five-figure set has great variety; its first figure is a jig, then a slide, polka, reel and the last figure is a slip jig. We all took a well-earned lunch break and had time to relax and chill out before the afternoon workshop.

Pat began the afternoon with the Clashmore Set from Co Waterford. This set has five figures and many similarities to the wonderful Ballyduff Set, another Waterford set. Numbers remained the same as the morning workshop. Aidan Vaughan gave us a treat with his sean nós dancing demonstration. We resumed with the Aran Set, also known as the Inis Mór Set. Pat told us he got it from Séamus Ó Méalóid. Pat used the brilliant Connemara-style music recorded by P J Hernon for this set. This three-figure set with two reels and a polka came alive as dancers feet tapped out the steps to this special type of music. The workshop concluded with Pat demonstrating the first figure of a set called the Lot 7 Set from Prince Edward Island. This three-figure set is similar to the Souris Set from the same province. Pat got the set from Leona Dalton and her husband Louis when he met them last year while they were holidaying in Westport. Pat said this was the first time he had danced it at a workshop.

After the ceili the ballroom was prepared for Mass celebrated by Father Brendan O’Callaghan, a retired priest from Knockanure in Co Kerry. Dancers then retired to their rooms to shower and change for dinner and the night’s ceili.

The ballroom began to fill up with eager dancers and at 9.30pm sets were formed as the music of that wonderful Co Cork band, the Abbey, doled out reels for the first set of the night, the Clare Lancers. We danced the Borlin, Corofin and West Kerry before the break. I was thrilled to dance the West Kerry with my old friend Shay White from Co Meath and boy did we give every figure extra gusto in true Shay style. The second half of the ceili started with the Paris Set called by Pat Murphy. Dancers who had danced this at the workshop had no trouble following Pat’s calling; others soon got the hang of set left and set right, as those were the only two unusual moves in the set. Then as a special treat Pat called the Clashmore Set. The ceili finished with the Ballyvourney Jig followed by the Connemara. Timmy Woulfe kept us all in line calling any of the less familiar sets. The 27 sets on the floor had a brilliant night’s dancing.

Sunday morning at 10am eight sets gathered in the ballroom anxious to begin dancing. Pat finished the Lot 7 Set and then he showed us the long version of the East Galway Set. The moves are simple but a bit different as all couples are dancing all the time. The workshop concluded with some two-hand dances including Polly Glide, solo and in couples, then the Mayfair, a little dance in quickstep time.

Dancers then had lunch and refreshments before the Glenside Ceili Band were on stage for the final ceili of the festival. As usual the Longford men gave us an afternoon of blissful music. The ceili began with the Sliabh Luachra, then the Labasheeda, South Kerry and Kilfenora. We had a break and resumed the second half with the Clare Orange and Green, followed by the Cashel and concluding with a brilliant Connemara. To the joy of most dancers no sets were duplicated all over the weekend. Another west Limerick workshop weekend had come to an end.

The chairperson of the West Limerick Set Dancing Club, Ann Curtin, thanked everyone for attending. She said it was nice to see all the usual attendees but it was a delight to welcome new friends. “We have all had a brilliant time here this weekend,” Ann said, “and I hope you all enjoyed our new venue as we have already booked the festival here in Rathkeale House Hotel for next year, please God.” This news was met with rapturous applause, as everyone was delighted with the new venue. As I bade goodbye to my wonderful west Limerick friends they were busy taking up the extra flooring, but not too busy for the wonderful hugs and kisses synonymous with the dancers from this club. Congratulations to all the club members on your organising skills and thank God for your warm-hearted welcome, which makes all who attend your events feel special.

Joan Pollard Carew

Johnny's English tour

Many of Ireland’s favourite ceili bands make a great effort to visit their fans in other countries. Johnny Reidy and his band are one of the most popular in Ireland, and that popularity is shared by dancers in England, where they were on tour the first weekend of March. On Friday and Saturday the band visited two venues in Manchester and on Sunday they travelled down to Birmingham. I was passing through England on my way home from Belgium so was able to attend all three ceilis.

As I drove up to Manchester on Friday it was a dry and sunny day, though cold. I was staying with friends who live north of the city and as soon as I was within a few miles of my destination I found myself in a raging blizzard. Luckily I found the friends’ house with no problem but I despaired of ever getting to the ceili that night. Not to worry, they said, we’ll chance it whatever the weather. And they were right to be optimistic—by the time we set off for the ceili the snow had ceased falling and the roads were clear.

The dedicated dancers who weren’t discouraged by winter weather had a great time that night in the hall below St Bernadette’s Church on the south side of the city. Those who hadn’t been here before might have had a bit of trouble finding the hall, which was rather inconspicuous even though it was on the side of a hill on a main road. A carload up for the night from Birmingham refused to give up the search and were especially pleased to have found their way before the ceili was over.

My own party arrived in the hall while a few sets were warming up by dancing the Clare Mezerks to a tape of St Malachy’s Ceili Band with calling by Sean Dempsey. Sean was the life and soul of set dancing in Manchester for many years up to his death in 2000. His presence is still felt there to this day, and I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise to hear his voice booming out over the speakers.

Johnny began after that and even though it was one of his smaller ceilis by Irish standards, the music was identical with what we’re all used to hearing from him at home—melodies that flow effortlessly from his fingers, a driving rhythm that’s impossible to resist and a musical team that complement each other perfectly. The tradition of calling continues strongly here with all the locals relying on instructions from Barbara Aherne.

After several good sets I found myself partnerless when the Sliabh Luachra was called. I didn’t want to miss this one so found a place for myself dancing sides in the back of the hall and raised my hand. A stranger stood beside me, and I was lucky that she was a good dancer well able to keep up with the high-speed demands of a Johnny Reidy polka set. We were cheered on by all the spectators around us and Johnny kept the blood pumping rather quickly through our hearts. My partner said she hadn’t moved so fast since she was 11!

Johnny and his band, Eddie Lee, Marianne Browne and Irene Guckian (filling in for Martina O’Neill), shifted to the north side of Manchester for the Saturday night ceili in the Irish World Heritage Centre. The venue was a hive of activity, with the ceili in the main hall, live music in the bar and a private function upstairs. The hall was larger and cosier than St Bernadette’s, and the snow stayed away at least until after everyone arrived and the ceili had begun.

Sean Dempsey’s tape was played again for two warm-up sets, with additional calling by Barbara. Johnny played for polkas, reels, ceili dances, waltzes and quicksteps. There were three ceili dances, the High-Cauled Cap, the Walls of Limerick and the Siege of Carrick—my first time dancing this one. The Sliabh Luachra was even livelier than the one last night, especially as my partner and I doubled every time we possibly could. The final set was announced as the Caledonian, but when there was a request to do the Plain Set instead, Johnny played a rake of reels. I noticed that all the sets did the Plain Set except for my own set, which stayed with the Caledonian.

Johnny’s Sunday afternoon ceili in Birmingham was enormously successful. I never before danced in Birmingham and found my way to St Anne’s Community Centre after a small number of wrong turns. The city was free of any snow and the sunshine brought some spring to the air. I was nearly a full hour early and already there was a queue at the door! A coach full of London dancers had just arrived. It was worth being an hour early just to get a seat, as the hall had double its usual amount of floor space and seating was scarce. A coach or two from Manchester also showed up, and the total number of Manchester dancers in Birmingham probably exceeded the numbers at the Friday and Saturday ceilis there. So by the time the Birmingham dancers showed up, along with those from elsewhere in England, there was quite a crowd.

With twenty or more sets on the floor the atmosphere was electric and Johnny was in his element. The sets were called by Kate Howes, who mostly left us to get on with the dancing without any assistance. There were plenty of good sets and I was delighted to dance a West Kerry which moved along like clockwork. During a tea break, a teenage lad, Finbarr English, from London played a fiddle solo which was good enough to bring Johnny and the band back on stage to play along with him. Three London birthdays totalling 180 years were celebrated with a cake at the end of the break, and several other birthdays were also announced from the floor to raise the total by a century or two.

Johnny’s weekend tour of England ended on a high note with the Clare Lancers and it took a long time for the buzz to die down after that. A team of volunteers brought out the electric drills and dismantled the temporary floor. Its plywood panels were joined so smoothly that there no edges to trip on; it was just as comfortable as the old permanent timber floor beside it. Coaches slowly filled and departed for home, and I headed off to catch the ferry to Ireland in the best of spirits.

Bill Lynch

Ready for the next set

The Castlebar branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann held a very successful ceili in the Fáilte Suite of the Welcome Inn Hotel, Castlebar, Co Mayo, on Saturday 14th January. For the second year running, the very popular Emerald Ceili Band travelled down from the north to play their excellent style of music to a huge crowd, who ventured out on to a small floor to dance with great difficulty. It would be nice if the organisers could find a larger venue for this hugely popular ceili.

It was a very cold Saturday night (21st January) when we arrived in the village of Shrule on the Mayo–Galway border for the ceili with Carousel who were in their usual good form and provided the dancers with some excellent music. Regretfully I had to leave partway through the Plain Set, due to a jarred knee which I didn’t want to aggravate, as I wanted to dance the following afternoon. With plenty of ice-packs and a restful night, on Sunday 22nd January I took the road to Kilcoona in Co Galway where Matt Cunningham was playing at his local ceili. The hall soon filled with dancers from far and near, and we all enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of excellent music, dancing and craic. If you haven’t been to Kilcoona, you really should go.

It was very pleasing to see the Glenside Ceili Band playing again in Kilmaine, Co Mayo, on Saturday 4th February to a packed hall. Included in the itinerary was the Kerry Set, which some of us hadn’t danced for a very long time and brought about a lot of brain searching, but it was well worth it. I must congratulate the organisers of this ceili for such a wonderful night, and to the band for some very exhilarating music.

In this area we seem to be blessed with regular ceilis and the following weekend was to be no exception. The small Mayo village of Roundfort held their ceili on Saturday the 11th of February with Heather Breeze providing lively music for the good crowd of dancers. The following Sunday (12 February) afternoon Westport branch of Comhaltas held its monthly ceili in the Castlecourt Hotel. Again Pat Friel and Heather Breeze were in tremendous form and played some very exhilarating music for the large crowd of dancers. These Sunday afternoon ceilis are proving very popular with locals and visitors. That night myself and several others went on to the ceili in Taugheen, near Claremorris, Co Mayo, where Carousel were playing. The ceili was part of an evening in the community hall featuring a wealth of local young and not so young talent, different age groups of set and step dancers, very talented young musicians and many other items. As the chairs were being put to one side Carousel were ready and several sets took to the floor and danced well into the night. An excellent weekend of music, song and dance in three locations.

25th February found us in the Cois Abhann Centre, Hollymount, Co Mayo, where Gertie Tighe and her wonderful helpers had everything ready for the ceili. A capacity crowd greeted the Four Provinces Ceili Band who were providing the music, a band we don’t hear or see very often, unfortunately. And a superb night of dancing ensued, with a fabulous Hollymount spread at the tea interval.

The inclement weather took its toll the following weekend with the ceili in Glenhest, Co Mayo, which is situated in the foothills of the Nephin Beg mountain range in north Mayo, being cancelled due to snow and ice. But we were able to go to Kilcoona the following afternoon (March 5th) to the friendliest of ceilis with Matt Cunningham and his band, playing with their usual lovely relaxed style.

Such a wonderful pastime

Some eight years ago I arrived [from England] to Ireland in a very scenic area of Co Mayo between Lough Carra and Lough Mask looking out towards the Partry Mountains. I had always loved traditional music and was an avid listener of Céilí House on RTÉ for as long as I can remember. So when we were fortunate to find our dream cottage in this beautiful country, my dream was fast becoming reality—to be able to listen to a live ceili band and possibly dance as well (but I had two left feet).

Before I retired I worked as head gardener to the Marquess of Sligo at Westport House. Also working there was Liam Grealis, the fiddle player with Heather Breeze, with whom I struck up a wonderful friendship. Liam suggested that I should start going to the Neale set dancing classes. The Neale is a small village south of Ballinrobe on the Headford road, well known for its association with Captain Boycott. Classes are held there every Monday night, with that maestro of the dance floor, Mickey Kelly, teaching myself and several other total beginners, amongst the more seasoned dancers. I very much enjoyed learning the movements and figures, staying in time with the music, the wonderful sets which we were taught with great precision and the sense of achievement when we could dance a set right through. I was really enjoying this new-found pastime and wanted more. I joined the classes in the Sciobol, Ballintubber, on Thursday nights where that dynamic lady with such tremendous energy teaches, I mean of course Chris Oates.

I felt I was now improving in all aspects of the set dancing and was enjoying everything about it, so perhaps it was time to go to a ceili. The following weekend Heather Breeze were playing in the village of Roundfort, a few miles east of Ballinrobe. I decided to go and danced a couple of sets (probably badly) and really enjoyed myself. I needed to understand more of the sets, and whilst surfing the net one evening I came across the Set Dancing News web site, and delved into it, and finding to my delight Joseph O’Hara’s web site which contained a huge number of sets. I was able to print these out and through these have learnt, and am still learning, a great number of sets and I feel very confident when I go to a ceili, which is every weekend.

John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo

Heartening weekend in Carrigaline

All who attended the Owenabue Valley Traditional Group’s set dance workshop festival weekend on Friday 11th to Sunday 13th March ’06 were loud in their praise of the organisation of the event, the great welcome they received and the fabulous atmosphere throughout. The craic started in the lounge on Friday night with a traditional music session followed by a céilí in the hall from 10pm to 1am to the beautiful music of Mort Kelleher and his family céilí band.

Set dancers were arriving from 9.30am in readiness for the first workshop on Saturday morning. Pádraig and Róisín McEneaney from Co Louth and their team of Mary Conboy from Sligo and Donal Morrissey from Offaly had flown down the night before and stayed in the Carrigaline Court Hotel. Seven sets took part in the morning session where they got excellent tuition in the steps, the body and figures of the Durrow Threshing Set. After lunch, six sets learned the steps and movements of the Aubane Jenny Ling Set and also the South Galway Set. By popular request the last hour of tuition was given over to sean nós steps.

A capacity crowd attended the Saturday night céilí with Johnny Reidy from Kerry providing the lively music. A record twenty sets were on the floor for the first set of the night. Sunday morning started at 10am with Aifreann Gaelach in the Church of Our Lady and St John. Five sets attended the morning workshop where they learned the seven parts of the Melleray Lancers followed by thirty minutes of sean nós. Pádraig and Róisín paid great attention to the detail of the steps and movements of each set and made time to give individual instruction and help newcomers who may not be so familiar with set dancing.

The Four Courts Céilí Band from Kilfenora, Co Clare, provided excellent dance music on Sunday afternoon to conclude a memorable festival weekend. The many who travelled, from all over Ireland, London, Holland, Poland and Vienna were delighted with the weekend. The number of newcomers taking up set dancing especially young people is heartening and augurs well for the future.

Barry Cogan, Carrigaline, Co Cork

Farewell to Pontoon

Pontoon Bridge Hotel in Co Mayo, nestled in a panoramic location between two famous trout and salmon lakes, Lough Conn and Lough Cullin, played host once more to this wonderful Mayo festival. The weekend got underway on Friday night, 10th March, at 10pm with a ceili in the ballroom. The Davey Ceili Band played wonderful music for the eighteen sets that hardly left the floor all night. The ceili started with the Derrada, then the Cashel, Kilfenora, Plain, waltzes and quicksteps brought us up to the tea break. The committee offered us beautiful cakes with our cups of tea or coffee as we relaxed and renewed our energy for the second part of the ceili. This started with the Ballyvourney Jig, then we danced the Newport and Claddagh, and finished with the Connemara.

Saturday morning at 10.30am our first workshop of the weekend got underway. Our tutor Jim Barry has a wonderful sense of humour, surely due to the fact that he is a Kerry man, though now living and working in Wicklow. Jim taught the Borlin Jenny Reel Set from the Borlin Valley of Co Cork. I remember dancing it a few times at the Kerry Fleadh in Kenmare a few years ago. I was delighted that it got an airing at a workshop. The next set was the Shramore Set which Mickey Kelly and the Newport dancers revived some years back. Formations in this set are similar to the lovely Derrada. The morning workshop saw an attendance of 10 sets enjoying themselves. With an hour’s break for lunch we were back in the ballroom for the afternoon workshop and the Ballycastle Set, another Mayo set. There is a little bit of thinking in this set with its diamond moves and it is imperative that everyone moves on in time. The workshop concluded with the Fermanagh Quadrilles. I had danced this set in the Gathering Festival in Killarney in February at Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey’s workshop. It is a nice easygoing set.

The ballroom was prepared for Mass at 6pm, celebrated by Father Michael Flynn from the local parish. Dancers gathered for dinner, which was part of the package that Mickey Kelly had negotiated for the dancers who were guests in the hotel. We had a wonderful four-course meal followed by tea or coffee. Dancers converged in the hotel lounge to warm up their dancing skills with the Amethyst Trio providing the music.

We just had enough time to freshen up again for the night ceili at 10pm and dance the night away to the man from Headford, Co Galway, the one and only Matt Cunningham Ceili Band. The ceili began with the Cashel Set, followed by the Derrada, Clare Lancers and Ballycastle called by Jim Barry. We took a well-earned break for tea and confectionary. I was amazed that dancers could enjoy more food but to some people this set dancing is hungry work. The second half of the ceili began with Jim Barry calling the Borlin Jenny, and then we danced the Plain. It was two-hand dance time with the Gay Gordons, Military Two-Step, Peeler and the Goat, quicksteps and jiving. We returned to set dancing with the Newport and finished with the Connemara. All was quiet as I retired to bed at 1.30am but I believe some dancers had a bit of a singsong into the late hours.

Sunday morning the workshop began at 11am. Again we had ten sets on the floor. Jim Barry was all set to go with the Inis Oírr Set. The first three figures are danced as a half-set to reels and the last figure is a polka danced in a full set. Mickey Kelly took over the workshop to demonstrate the Sweetheart Waltz, which we all danced, then Jim Barry taught the Waltz of the Bells and the Back to Back Hornpipe which concluded the workshop.

The afternoon ceili began at 2.30pm with Mayo’s own Heather Breeze on stage. The wonderful steady music of this band is a sheer joy to dance to. As 23 sets formed on the floor, dancing got underway with the Corofin Plain, followed by the Derradda, North Kerry, Cashel and Plain sets. After the tea break we returned to dancing with the Claddagh Set, the Pride of Erin Waltz, the Waltz Country Dance, the Newport Set and finished with the Connemara.

At each ceili we had numerous brilliant spot prizes. The big draw took place just before the Sunday ceili finished for an Enjoy Travel holiday in Portugal in October. The lucky winner was Josie Lavelle from Breaffy, Castlebar, Co Mayo.

Organiser Mickey Kelly thanked everyone for their patronage and thanked the hotel staff and management. He told us that this was the last year that the festival would be held in Pontoon. “Next year this festival will be hosted by Hotel Newport in Newport, Co Mayo. I am from Newport myself,” Mickey said, “and I can assure you that we will be well looked after there.”

Some dancers left for home but a large number remained for dinner and the wonderful craic in the lounge with music, singing and dancing. The Amethyst Trio kept us dancing. We danced the Newport Set and three figures of the Plain Set. Then we had waltzes, quicksteps and foxtrots. Pat Lyons from Co Limerick took out a group of dancers including Mickey Kelly and John Creed to dance the Slosh. John Joe Geraghty danced sean nós in his own true John Joe style. John Creed from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, danced the Priest and His Boots. We had storytelling and singing—even Mickey McAleer from Omagh gave a lovely song. No one wanted the night to end. As we all danced the Hokey Pokey it was evident that this festival is one of the success stories of Irish set dancing weekends. The venue will be different next year but I am sure that the craic, festivities, ceilis and set dancing will be as good as ever with the great Mickey Kelly at the helm.

Joan Pollard Carew

Articles continue in Old News Volume 33.

There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

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Bill Lynch   Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
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