There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
The Seaview Country Club and adjoining Aura Hotel in Port d’es Torrent, San Jose, Ibiza, hosted the greatest ever Fleadh Ibiza from 17th April to 1st May. This festival is without doubt the biggest and best music and dance festival in Europe. Under the expert guidance and hands on management of Enjoy Travel director Gerry Flynn and his wonderful staff, this festival continues to grow with extra events being added each year.
Guests began to arrive from early on Monday 17th April. Enjoy Travel personnel handled all registration of guests without delay or fuss. It was a pleasure to arrive and be in your accommodation within ten minutes. Festival-goers who arrived early basked in the glorious sunshine as other guests arrived by the hour. With numerous flights from Britain and Ireland, soon the complex boasted 1450 holidaymakers all eager for music and dancing.
The first ceili of Fleadh Ibiza 2006 got underway at 9.30pm with the wonderful Co Clare band, the Four Courts. The first set was the Kilfenora Plain. We had fourteen sets on the floor and numbers quickly grew to 25 sets. By the time Johnny Reidy came on stage at 11.30pm we had thirty sets on the floor. We danced a lively Sliabh Luachra and all the Clare sets with some lovely waltzes and quicksteps interspersed. Everyone had a brilliant night with these two superb bands on stage. All the set dancers I spoke with said they felt energised by the first night and were anticipating a wonderful holiday of sets, sun, sand, sea, songs, with little time for siesta.
Tuesday morning with the Spanish sun kissing our skins we danced by the pool. Mickey Kelly held a workshop for beginners—twenty sets all eager to get started. Mickey did the lovely Derradda Set, the Back-to-Back Hornpipe and the Waltz Country Dance.
At 1pm we had our welcome meeting with Gerry Flynn who briefed us on the programme of events for the week. He welcomed the bands, musicians and dance tutors, especially Gerard Butler and Mick and Kathleen McGlynn, tutors for the first time at the festival. Gerry told us that many of the artists who have been involved in the festivals over the years had recorded a CD and that it was on sale all with all proceeds for charity. We were informed of the security issues and the importance of wearing our wristbands. Gerry then invited everyone to join him in a glass of champagne to launch the festival.
At 2pm Ger Butler began his first workshop. His family have always been involved in music and dancing in his home area of Elfin in Co Roscommon. Together with Gabrielle Cassidy, Ger is one of the main organisers of the famous weekend in the Longford Arms Hotel each November. The twenty sets that had danced all morning were joined by three more as Ger danced the Roscommon Set. He went through the figures first, and then concentrated on the proper step and spent some time breaking it down. Ger then moved on to two-hand dances, starting with the Long German danced in hornpipe time and then the two-hand Polly Glide. Ger said he learned this dance from Edie Brady just a few weeks ago. The workshop concluded with the Canadian Barn Dance.
At 4pm hundreds gathered on the platform by the pool as the ceili got underway with the Glenside Ceili Band on stage. As 32 sets tapped out the first figure of the Corofin Plain, we had blue skies overhead, a specially constructed timber floor, fantastic music and wonderful company. We danced the afternoon away with sets, two-hand dances and a few waltzes.
Meanwhile in the Seaview lounge, Tom and Noreen Carter, assisted by John Farragher, gave ballroom tuition to over 100 dancers while Sally Glennon provided the music for modern dancers in the pool area of the Aura Hotel, where a beautiful wooden floor was erected there for the first time. Dancers spoke glowingly of the benefits and comfort of this floor. At 9pm sharp the Davey Ceili Band graced the stage in the main ballroom for the first half of the ceili. Mid-way through the ceili it was announced that Anthony Broderick from Co Waterford was celebrating his birthday and we all sang Happy Birthday as the ladies queued to give him a kiss. Johnny Reidy took over for the second part of the night and I counted thirty sets eager to stay dancing. They were not disappointed as Johnny gave us wonderful slides for the Ballyvourney Jig Set.
Some set dancers visited the Aura Hotel for the fíor ceili with music by Danny Webster and Clement Gallagher as MC, and the lounge had Mick Mackey leading the session musicians and storytellers. It was easy to move between venues as all were within a short walking distance through beautiful paved and well-lit gardens. The lounge in the Seaview Hotel boasted country musicians Owen Condon, Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly. The late-nighters were entertained in the Cellar Bar with Tony Stevens, Dermot Hegarty and Sean Wilson.
On Wednesday morning by the pool Frank and Bobby Keenan paid extra attention to beginners in their set dancing workshop. Throngs of advanced dan cers also enjoyed this time, as by nature set dancers just want to dance the minute they hear music. Frank and Bobby taught the lovely Ballyvourney Reel Set and then moved on to the South Galway.
The afternoon workshop for advanced dancers was given by Mick McGlynn and his wife Kathleen who teach in Co Louth. Firstly Mick did the Cuchulainn Set from Mullaghbuoy in the Cooley Peninsula. Kathleen then took over and taught her lovely Connemara-style sean nós style dancing. Over 150 dancers circled the floor as she meticulously showed each move. Kathleen finished by dancing a demonstration for us. She is a superb tutor and a treat to watch dancing.
Our afternoon ceili began at 4pm with the Four Courts providing brilliant reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes. The sets included the South Galway and the Ballyvourney Reel sets. With Frank Keenan calling, even the beginners at the workshop earlier in the day enjoyed and felt comfortable dancing. Afterwards by the pool in the shade of the evening, Hughie Clancy from London celebrated his birthday with chocolate cake and champagne.
Wednesday night’s ceili saw Johnny Reidy first on stage then the Davey Ceili Band took over. With between thirty and forty sets on the floor most of the night, the atmosphere, the music and dancing was magic. Dancers moved easily to the lounge for the odd slow waltz or quickstep to the music of Seamus Shannon and P J Murrihy and Johnny Carroll’s golden trumpet. Late night dancers finished in time to see the sun rise as they whiled away a few more hours to Curtis Magee in the cellar bar.
Thursday morning by the pool Ger Butler was back on duty to give a beginners workshop. He decided to do Seit Doire Cholmcille, a good set for beginners. Fifteen sets enjoyed the dancing and the morning sunshine. As numbers grew Ger then went on to two-hand dances including the two-hand Polly Glide and the Breakaway Blues.
The afternoon workshop saw the one and only Mickey Kelly in charge of an advanced dancers workshop. Mickey danced the Ballycastle Set, a wonderful Mayo three-figure set danced to polkas. We had some fun with the diamond in the second figure. Mickey then showed the White Heather Foxtrot, and we all enjoyed yet another two-hand dance as Mickey detailed each move for us.
This afternoon we had fíor ceili by the pool with Danny Webster providing the music and Clement Gallagher as MC. I was both delighted and surprised by the numbers of set dancers who enjoyed it. We danced the Sweets of May, Fairy Reel, Trip to the Cottage, Siege of Carrick, Harvest Time Jig, Gates of Derry and the Morris Reel. We were fortunate to have Clement’s guidance and calling in his melodious accent, thus enabling us to have a wonderful afternoon of fíor ceili.
The main ballroom began to fill from 8.30pm with set dancers eager to dance the night away. The first band was Johnny Reidy and Ger Butler was our MC. We started with the Ballyvourney Jig, then the Plain and the West Kerry by special request. The first half concluded with the Connemara and the Corofin. The second part got underway with the Four Courts and MC Mickey Kelly, starting with the Cashel and Clare Lancers. We then had a guest caller, well-known Fermanagh teacher and dancer Sheila Gormley. It was a delight to dance the Fermanagh Set with her clear instruction. My night was made when Limerick dance teacher Timmy Woulfe called the Labasheeda Set. Just when I thought my feet could take no more, Mickey said we would finish the night with the Kilfenora and then the Connemara. I danced every step with gusto ignoring my throbbing toes.
Friday morning as dancers collected by the pool Mick and Kathleen McGlynn began another beginners workshop. We danced the Rathgormack Lancers from north Co Waterford. The first four figures are danced to polkas, then there’s a slide and it finishes with a hornpipe. It has similarities to many Lancer sets. Mick told us that he had learned this set from Mary and Bronagh Murphy during the Dance ’Neath the Comeraghs weekend in September 2005. Anyone familiar with the Slate Quarry Lancers from Kilkenny will recognise the hornpipe figure. Mick mentioned this similarity but told us that dropping the lady off is gentler in the Waterford version. Perhaps the Waterford ladies are more delicate than their Kilkenny neighbours. The handhold for this figure is a bit different than most dancers are used to—hands are held very low. Mick invited Mick and Kay Doyle of Galmoy, Co Kilkenny, to demonstrate both the handhold and the hornpipe step. Eighteen sets stayed on for Kathleen McGlynn’s sean nós workshop. Everyone was high in their praise of the morning workshop.
Frank and Bobby Keenan directed the afternoon workshop. They taught a real little treasure of a set called the Sliabh Fraoch Set, which means heather hill. It has three polka figures, a reel and a fling. Frank and Bobby discovered it among notes left by Bobby’s grandmother. It is believed that the set originated from the area of Rockchapel, Co Cork, which is close to where the three counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick meet. With its sequences of diamonds and squares I see similarities with the Caragh Lake Jig Set. This is a set that could easily hit the workshop and ceili scene.
The afternoon ceili started with thirty sets on the floor in the brilliant afternoon sunshine and the Davey Ceili Band providing the music. The Galmoy Set Dancers gave us a demonstration of the Slate Quarry Lancers Set, which has become a welcome annual feature of this festival. Mick and Kay Doyle, dance tutors and leaders of the set, said they were dancing it in memory of the late Sean Dempsey—the first Fleadh España was his brainchild. We had wild sean nós dancing by Sean Duggan from Ballymahon, Co Longford. Then Kathleen McGlynn and all of her workshop pupils took the floor and tapped away to that famous reel, Miss McCloud.
Fed and changed, dancers gathered for Friday night’s dancing which began with the Four Courts. As the band tuned up using a lovely waltz, Michael O’Keeffe from Ballingarry, Co Limerick, and I had the full floor to ourselves as we enjoyed a waltz together. The ceili soon got underway with the Corofin, Derradda and the Plain sets.
We had a special treat when a set of young dancers from Cappamore, Co Limerick, took the floor dressed in black and emerald green uniforms and danced the magic Cavan Reel Set. The dancing and choreography was superb. Their tutor Pauline Hynan can be very proud of this talented group, which won the set dancing competition at the 2005 Sean Dempsey Set Dance Festival in Manchester, England.
The Glenside took the stage for the second half of the ceili. We danced the Lancers, Mazurka and our first Claddagh Set. The Galmoy dancers once more performed the Slate Quarry Lancers for those who were away when they danced it earlier.
Mickey Kelly was back by the pool with his Saturday morning beginners workshop. We had fifteen sets on the floor and danced the Kilfenora Set. Mickey then asked what we would like to do. By popular demand we danced the White Heather Foxtrot and the Pride of Erin Waltz. We had a special treat then when Fidelma McCarney and Mary McGrath from Co Fermanagh danced the two-hand Fiona Polka. By special request Kathleen McGlynn gave another sean nós workshop. I counted 150 dancers intent on every move and enjoying the teaching of this brilliant, unassuming tutor. Frank and Bobby Keenan gave another workshop repeating the Sliabh Fraoch Set as requested by numerous dancers.
By the time the afternoon ceili got underway with the Four Courts, clouds had filled the sky. We danced the Plain Set to start and the first two figures of the Newport before the clouds opened to rain. We retired to the lounge to continue the ceili with the last figure of the Newport, then the Ballyvourney Jig, Kilfenora and Connemara.
The ballroom took on a different image from 8 to 11pm with Johnny McEvoy and the Bachelors in concert. Over 600 holidaymakers enjoyed this special event. It is difficult to sit and listen and one’s feet are always itching to dance but these talented artists are a treat to just sit back and enjoy.
Our Saturday night ceili started a bit late at 11.20pm, but boy we got in to dancing straight away! Chairs were moved at the speed of light to clear the floor as the Glenside took the stage. Tom Skellig was unable to travel with the band this year and the boys enlisted skilled banjo player Johnny Duffy from Lanesborough, Co Longford, in his place. Anthony Quinn from Manchester joined them to play the flute. The Davey Ceili Band came onstage for the second half and we danced on until 2am in the morning.
Sunday was the last day of the festival and started with open air Mass by the pool. Every morning of the week Mass had been celebrated in the ballroom. Today brilliant sunshine greeted the large gathering. I could almost swear that everyone who had come for the festival joined in the Mass. With beautiful singers, brilliant musicians and the wonderful atmosphere and togetherness of the people it was a most spiritual experience.
With Mass over the stage was cleared and Curtis Magee and Pat Jordan took over. We danced a few quicksteps and waltzes and the good old taxi dance to get everyone motivated. With the sun beaming and everyone happy, the talent show got underway. Dancers are a talented lot and we entertained each other, singers, dancers and storytellers. The winners were a lovely Dublin couple who enjoy ceili dancing, Teresa and Tom Rowse from Cherryfield.
Then it was fancy dress time. It was wonderful to see the time and effort people had taken to come up with different attire and themes for this popular event. The winners were set dancing friends Rosemary Finlay and Gráinne O’Callaghan from Co Galway, whose costumes took on the theme of bird flu.
The next adventure was the waltzing in the pool competition. Dancers gathered in the pool, some splashing about, others more controlled, when Mickey Kelly put them under starters’ orders. We had ten couples all poised and doing their best. It is all a bit of fun but some are more able than others to dance in water. Tom and Olga Lyons from Castlerea in Co Roscommon scooped the prize.
The set dancing competition in the pool got underway straight away. Five sets attempted the third figure of the Connemara and the last figure of the Clare Lancers. The winners were Marian Malone, Paddy Lynch, Joan Ormsby, Sean Quinn, Catherine Burcheal, Martin Mitchel, Ann Casey and Anthony Pepper. They each got a bottle of wine.
At dinner on Sunday night I was invited to join the Clare dancers’ table to celebrate the birthday of Gonzie O’Neill from Ennis. The staff of the hotel had prepared a beautiful birthday cake complete with candles and we all stuffed ourselves on this delightful confectionary. Meanwhile my lovely Dublin friends, Nicholas and Jo Quinn, were celebrating 46 years of happily married bliss. They always look like they are on their honeymoon to me.
Sunday night’s ceili got underway with the Glenside on first, followed by the Davey Ceili Band both playing for their last ceili in this year’s fleadh. We got a West Kerry Set which gave the final ceili of the first week a bit of a yippee finish.
Tonight was the final of the waltzing competition and the winners were all set dancers. First prize went to Donal and Judy Crowley from Dunmanway in Co Cork, second prize went to Joe and Breda Doherty from Abbeyfeale, west Limerick, and third prize to Liz Hand and Syl Bell, set dancing teachers from Co Carlow and Co Kildare.
At 12am we had a superb farewell fireworks display. Then excitement grew as the grand prize draw took place for a Mediterranean cruise for two in September. The winner was Noreen Murphy from Croom, Co Limerick, now living in Birmingham, England.
Another Fleadh Ibiza had come to an end and as holidaymakers readied themselves for the journey home on the Monday morning I joined in the fun and banter. Anthony Broderick was still full of life and eager to dance to the brilliant polkas of Danny Webster, joined by Mickey Kelly on bones and session musicians Mick Mackey, Jimmy McLoughlin and friends. Ita McQuinn from Newcastlewest, Co Limerick, danced a jig. The craic was mighty as luggage was piled for the awaiting coaches.
Many had been on their first visit to the fleadh and vowed to sign up for next year straight away. Some came to just enjoy the dancing, others the seisiún and others went on the many trips organised for the week. Those who went on the ceili cruise said it was great fun and a lovely relaxing day. The island tour was enjoyed by all who went along; it was educational and informative. The ladies who went on the trip to Santa Eulalia said they were in shopping heaven. The beautiful promenade is a delight with loads of pavement cafés and little clothes shops. It boasts a beautiful square and lovely olive trees. Some took advantage of the Ibiza by night tour. The beautiful architecture and the old cobblestones which characterise Ibiza’s old town are all lit up by night. The tour was a unique opportunity of seeing this little treasure at its best. For those who never left the complex the programme of events was second to none. Most days were not long enough to be able to do everything.
As the coaches pulled away on Monday I felt lucky to be staying on for another week to enjoy the Ireland in the Sun festival. The emphasis is supposed to shift to modern dancing and country and western music but with almost 1200 holidaymakers in the complex and more set dancers attending this year, the second week promised to more than live up to my expectations.
At 2pm Seamus Shannon and P J Murrihy went on stage by the pool and we had a wonderful selection of quicksteps, waltzes and foxtrots. We also danced a Siege of Ennis and super reels for three figures of the Plain Set. Michael and Philomena O’Brien then took over and we danced until dinnertime to this talented duo.
Our nightly ceilis for this week were held in the lounge. We had the Four Courts on stage at 9pm sharp. Danny Webster took over for the second half and played a lively Sliabh Luachra and the ceili concluded with the Connemara.
Tuesday morning musicians led by Mick Mackey and members of the Copperplate Ceili Band began a big session in the lounge. Gerry Ryan’s RTÉ radio show had a link-up to the festival. A number of musicians and Enjoy Travel director Gerry Flynn were interviewed. The musicians played a selection of reels and I collected a few friends and we danced the first three figures of the Plain Set on live radio.
I was privileged to have a brief few words with the members of the Copperplate Ceili Band. Like everyone else I was charmed by their pure music. You could see and feel their joy and they became one with the dancers. These three gifted musicians from Omagh in County Tyrone have been playing music all their lives. Enda McGlone is their box player and has a wonderful singing voice. Eamonn Donnelly, the piano player, has a background in modern music. Brian Ward, the banjo player, has a background in country music. The three men formed the Copperplate Ceili Band just sixteen months ago and are very popular in Fermanagh, Derry, Armagh and Monaghan. The boys also play for fíor ceili and modern dancing. I have no doubt that we will be hearing a lot more of this band in the future at ceilis on all sides of the border. I am reliably informed that they are featuring at the Longford weekend in November.
Meanwhile by the pool Mickey Kelly gave his first beginners workshop of week two. Eighteen sets graced the floor for the Caledonian Set, a great start to the second week of set dancing workshops. At our 12.45pm welcome meeting Gerry Flynn welcomed everyone, particularly guest tutor Jim Barry and Copperplate Ceili Band making their first appearances at the festival.
Set and modern dancers enjoyed the afternoon dancing to Nicky James, followed by Mary Darcy and then the Galway Bay Jazz Band. Listening to and dancing to this wonderful blues jazz it brought me back to the my days of dancing to Mick Delahunty in the Collins Ballroom, Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
By 9pm set dancers had eaten dinner and were all set to dance the night away in the lounge. We had a real treat in store. Copperplate were on stage and we started with the Plain set—heavenly bliss, wonderful musicians and music! These boys have a lovely stage presence. Whether it was jigs, reels or hornpipes their music was fantastic and had a great lift. Danny Webster played for the second half of the ceili and fifteen sets who had danced all night were high in their praise of the music. We danced the West Kerry and Borlin Jenny, both called by Jim Barry. The night finished with the Caledonian especially for the morning’s beginners class.
Wednesday morning by the pool in brilliant sunshine of 23 degrees centigrade, we had eighteen sets on the floor dancing the Claddagh Set for our first workshop with Jim Barry. Some dancers had not danced this set before although most had some idea of it. Jim taught it with his usual attention to detail and with a brilliant Kerry sense of humour. Galway Bay Jazz Band followed the workshop. They have been playing together for the past twenty years, mainly in Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon. The tempo changed to country style two-hand dances at 3.30pm when Owen Condon came on stage. Set dancers enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the afternoon.
Wednesday night our ceili got underway with the Four Courts in the lounge. We danced the Derradda, Cashel, Kilfenora, Claddagh and Mazurka. Copperplate Ceili Band then took over and we danced the Plain and Caledonian. London teacher Moira Dempsy called the Paris Set, we finished with the Ballyvourney Jig and Connemara. As set dancers cooled down their feet started itching for more action and led them to the cellar bar to dance to Dermot Hegarty.
Thursday by the pool we had our daily workshop with Mickey Kelly. Today he had a lovely Mayo set for us, the Tyrawley Set, and then some two-hand dances including the Back-to-Back Hornpipe, Waltz Country Dance, Circle Waltz, White Heather Foxtrot and Polly Glide. Mickey learned these dances from Edie Brady and would like it if the dancers from Donegal would take back his thanks to her. We danced the evening away to country and western artists Michael and Philomena O’Brien, Nicky James and Sean Wilson.
Many dancers went on the ceili cruise with the Copperplate Ceili Band. The lads from the band told me it was a wonderful day of music and dancing with sessions on the boat as they sailed along and plenty of dancing at the restaurant after they had eaten their beautiful lunch.
Some dancers saw the drama A Wake in the West by Michael Joe Ginnelly performed by the Lough Ree Theatre Group. The play is set on the west coast of Ireland during the 1960s in a country house on the outskirts of a small town. In the story, those wishing to carry out the last wishes of Tom Healy find themselves in an awkward situation. There is a slight turn against the church but love will survive all.
The Thursday night ceili saw Danny Webster on first, then the Four Courts, and some danced the dew from the grass on their way to bed after boogying to Seamus and P J and T R Dallas in the cellar bar.
Friday by the pool it was Jim Barry’s turn for the workshop and he taught the Borlin Jenny Set from the Borlin Valley area of Co Cork. The set is danced to all reels and it’s important dance close to the ground. Jim finished the workshop with the Breakaway Blues. The afternoon was spent dancing to country artists James Quinn, Owen Condon, Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly. Those who missed
A Wake in the West were accommodated with a second show in the Aura Hotel.
We danced the first part of the Friday night ceili to the super music of Copperplate, and Danny Webster played for the second half of the night. The ceili concluded with the Ballyvourney, but not the dancing. When the Galway Bay Jazz band went on stage I felt like I was transported to another planet. The sound was magic and dancers crowded the floor for quicksteps and tangos showing their panache gained from Mike Behan and his partner Lally’s ballroom dance workshops. It was a joy to see set dancers, modern dancers and ballroom dancers enjoying each other’s company. New friends were definitely made as every dancer in the complex wanted a piece of the action.
Saturday morning by the pool under blue sunlit skies we had another workshop with Mickey Kelly and this time we danced the Roscahill Set from Oughterard, Co Galway, and a few two-hand dances. T R Dallas came on stage for some country and western then Dermot Hegarty took over for an hour.
At the ceili that night dancers formed sets on the floor at 8.55 and the Four Courts were up and running at 9pm sharp. The ceili continued with Danny Webster, then we had jazz to the small hours with the Galway Bay Jazz Band. Meanwhile throngs gathered in the main ballroom to see a special guest and I moved among this excited crowd. No one was disappointed. A young dashing dark-haired man arrived on stage and immediately the ballroom filled with awe. This young artist is Michael Muldoon and in his introduction, country singer Pat Jordan said he was a wonderful discovery. The crowd agreed. Indeed he is a true natural performer both musically and in his stage presence. What a wonderful voice! Every woman in the place including myself wanted to take him home. Michael’s parents are from Belfast but now live in the Sale area of Manchester, England. Michael has just returned to his singing career with guidance and encouragement from Pat Jordan and plans to tour Britain and Ireland in the near future.
Sunday was the final day of the festival and we had Mass in the open air by the pool. Like last week almost everyone attended with beautiful sunshine greeting us. The singing, music prayer and sunshine created a mystical kind of peace almost bordering on sadness.
From 4.30 to 6pm we had our only outdoor ceili of the week with Copperplate Ceili Band. A happy birthday was wished to Ronan Kelly from Co Roscommon who attends all these festivals and is a brilliant dancer and a good storyteller. He is generous with his dances and will never leave any lady sitting down.
After Mass was over we had Curtis Magee and Pat Jordan on stage with special guests. Those who missed Michael Muldoon last night had a special treat as he was one of the artists to sing for us. The talent show got underway and the number and calibre of performances was a joy. The winner was Johnny McManus from Co Meath. He told me he was a mad dancer and could be persuaded to take up set dancing—better watch out, Johnny, I could hold you to that promise when I meet you again. The fancy dress parade was next on the agenda. There were a lot fewer participating this week but effort and originality was still big. The winner was Tony Kearney, who was dressed as a cruise ship. The last two competitions were for buck waltzing (men only) and set dancing in the pool.
After dinner set dancers gathered for their last ceili with the Copperplate for the first half and the Four Courts for the second. At midnight we all went outside for the farewell fireworks display. The grand prize draw for a Mediterranean cruise took place just at the end of the ceili. The winner, Mary McBirney from Armagh, was attending the festival for first time. Our ceili finished with the Connemara Set. Some dancers stayed and chatted, others retired to pack for early flights on the following morning. The Galway Bay Jazz Band played on until late for eager dancers and listeners. No one wanted the night to end.
As dancers gathered for their coaches and planes it was evident that all had enjoyed this tremendous festival in Ibiza. Whether they were present for one or two weeks didn’t matter. Most of those who attended both weeks said the second was more relaxing. The fleadh in Ibiza for 2006 had come to an end. I would place a bet with anyone that this is the most successful festival ever due in no small way to the expertise, dedication, hard work, research, time and courtesy of Gerry Flynn and his team. If you haven’t booked your place for next year get cracking.
Joan Pollard Carew
The rain in SpainWhen we landed in Ibiza we did not find it very funny. It was chilly, wet and windy instead of hot and sunny. But it did not damp our spirits for the week that lay ahead, as we danced and sang and hoolied and seldom went to bed.
I think it was the best year yet—everyone was on a high. The fireworks made it extra special the night they lit the sky. There were the most unusual musical instruments which made it all the greater, one man played a jew’s harp and another an alligator.
The security you could not fault both on hand and on the jumbo. I could not believe my eyes one night when I met the ’tec’ Columbo. Some people got sore throats and hoarseness which they could not understand, but there was no need to worry Dr Pedro was at hand.
If you’re ever feeling down and blue, Ibiza is the place. It will send your spirits sky high and put a smile on upon your face. The fancy dress it was fantastic, you could not tell what was what or who was who. The ones that won deserved it for displaying the chicken flu.
I would like to thank the wonderful friends I met in Ibiza for their company and hospitality. Thank God for those that made other people laugh, long may they live.
Sheila Carty, Streatham, London
Friday 17th March
Brummagen [Birmingham] to the North Country with some trepidation; visions of setting-to with snow shovel instead of Heather Breeze. In fact, white on high slopes only and arrive Hexham mid-afternoon. An interesting, well-appointed town. Rendez-vous with the sister and we make a recce [reconnaissance] of the night’s venue for the ceili, the Winter Gardens of the Queen Elizabeth High School. Essentially a very large glasshouse with four central supporting pillars; should test the old terpsichorean capabilities. Rest of the Midlands Seven arrive, disguised as Sherpas; they have been to Hadrian’s Wall. 7.30pm and to the ceili! Heather Breeze installed, awaiting resolution of traditional initial problems with local sound system. This attended to, there follows an excellent evening: a mixture of English, Irish and American dances, called by Ms Dot Siddell, and several sets, called and danced, simultaneously, by Mr Dave Mann. (The designated caller, Mr Joe Farrell, is delayed in Dumfries—where else!) Interval entertainment provided by local clog and rapper sides. Not least, there is a presentation to Mr John Limer and to Mrs Joan Limer in recognition of their contribution to the nurturing of set dancing in Newcastle and the Northeast. Bravo! Midnight, and to Sunderland with the sister to Patrick’s night celebration. Note to self: avoid more than one glass of ‘The Flag’ (Jameson’s, Bailey’s and crème de menthe, layered) if co-ordination important next day.
Saturday 18th March
9.50am: We arrive at High School main building. Abundant parking. Mr Pat Murphy and a goodly throng (some 16 sets) are assembled in the school hall. Mr Murphy proceeds with his customary enjoyable mixture of clear instruction and gentle humour and by end of day workshop has encompassed the Donegal, the Connemara Jig, the Lusmagh and the Clashmore sets, plus a few figures of the Loughgraney. Impressive this, given that not a few of the participants are clearly novices! Refreshment provided in small canteen adjacent the hall and dispensed by some very cheery Northumbrian ladies. Coffee, tea and biscuits free; lunch must be purchased, but good value and well suited to event. An excellent facility! 5.30pm: The sister and self invited for supper locally. Watch Ireland beat England in final Six Nations match. Exciting game, shame about the rugby! 7:30pm: Back to school hall for ceili! Even bigger crowd and Heather Breeze in cracking form. Sets called by Mr Farrell (lately escaped from Dumfries) without the aid of a Northumberland phrase-book; Mr Murphy calls the Connemara Jig, learned earlier in the day. The Claddagh Set finishes with most people back in place; impressive. George takes his jumper off; astounding! Excellent interval displays by women’s rapper team and from non-competitive step dance group; latter refreshingly free of tacky pseudo-Gaelic costumes and naff ringlet wigs. Midnight plus, ceili ends. Great evening; great day! To Sunderland and bed.
Sunday 19th March
11.00am: Workshop. Good numbers again. Am asked to join demonstration set! Fortunately, Inis Oírr straightforward once partner and self work out what to do with the hands at start. Refreshments and lunch, as yesterday, good. Heather Breeze play for afternoon ceilidhe. This, consequently, well attended despite usual drift of folks home. Mr Murphy calls the Inis Oírr and, from yesterday’s workshop, the Clashmore. Borlin Set danced: barely survive fifth (doubling) figure! 5.30pm: Ceili and weekend finish. Calculate that some 45% of last 48 hours spent on dance floor and this, workshop content apart, with only one or two sets danced twice over whole weekend. Programme has included some less commonly danced: the Skibbereen, Williamstown, Mazurka, Claddagh and Borlin. All this with great music and good company! Bravo Mr Murphy and Heather Breeze! Well done Dr John Coleman and Mr Dave Mann (organisers-in-chief) and helpers from Durham and Newcastle set dance groups. Weekend a success! Final note to self: Pencil Hexham into diary for next year.
Ted Sheehan, Birmingham
The fifteenth annual Portmagee set dancing weekend took place over the May bank holiday. Once again we all had a memorable time.
The weekend opened on the Friday night with a great set dancing session in the Bridge Bar with music by the local band, Seamus Rahilly and Paddy Casey. The lively polkas and reels inspired the dancers and set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
Betty McCoy’s workshop on Saturday attracted a huge crowd of local and visiting dancers. Betty taught the Lusmagh, Louisbourgh, Clashmore and Claddagh sets with her usual energy and humour. The workshop was followed that night by more dancing in the Bridge Bar and a very successful ceili in the hall with music by the Mort Kelleher Ceili Band.
We had a special treat on Sunday afternoon in the Bridge Bar when we were taught a selection of two-hand dances by Josephine O’Connor. This led on to a brilliant session by local musicians, singers, storytellers and Irish dancers followed by a ceili with music by the west Cork band Autumn Gold.
In total contrast to the traditional theme of the weekend, we were entertained by the cabaret group Harmonix from England on Sunday with sounds from the sixties and seventies. The audience of all ages participated with great enthusiasm. The weekend finished with a mighty ceili in the Bridge Bar on Sunday night with music by Paddy and Seamus again.
This fantastic Portmagee weekend is organised each year by Ger and Pat Kennedy, proprietors of the Moorings, and Beryl and Julian Stracey. We would like to thank all the locals for their warm welcome and hospitality and we look forward to more South Kerry sets next year!
Carmel Kearns and the North Wicklow Set Dancers
Having missed out on the opportunity to attend the first London set dancing weekend last year run by Tom Collis, I was keen to take part in this year from Friday 24 March to Sunday 26 March. The first ceili held in St Boniface Social Club, Tooting, was an adventure in itself as it was my first time to south London. The hall was ideal for such an occasion and the floor was perfect for dancing to the delightful music of Johnny Reidy. There was an impressive crowd for the opening night! Tom made a point of welcoming everyone from London, visitors from other parts of England and those who travelled from Ireland.
The weekend then switched to north London, Cecil Sharp House, Camden, a venue I was more familiar with in days gone by. Saturday morning begun with a leisurely walk from the very pleasant Britannia Hotel where I was staying, past the impressive Primrose Hill to Cecil Sharp House. I was greeted with a warm welcome at the door and walked eagerly into the hall to attend the first workshop of the weekend taught by Gerard Butler. I wasn’t disappointed! His ability to explain steps and movements with such precision is second to none and he had us all moving in unison within no time at all. So much so that a group of us who had planned to go shopping at the reputable Camden Market that afternoon changed our minds and returned for the afternoon workshop. Such are the powers of Gerard Butler!
The two ceilis held at Cecil Sharp House on the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon were very enjoyable and some of the visitors from Ireland treated us to some sean nós and brush dancing during the intervals.
What I noticed over the weekend was the support evident from many of the London set dance teachers based in and around the London area. It proves that set dancing is still very much alive in London today and is driven by their enthusiasm and commitment. Well done to Tom for organising such a great weekend. It is lovely to see a keen set dancer like Tom take on the challenge and responsibility of such an event. Will I be going next year? Just try and stop me!
Mary, North Yorkshire
A more attractive optionHi Bill,
We had a great weekend of set dancing here in London recently when Johnny Reidy came over and played magic music to create a buzz and excitement I have only experienced in places like Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy week. Gerald Butler did a wonderful job again with his flare for getting everyone enthused and keeping all ages from eight to eighty on their toes.
The location is also brilliant, in the heart of Camden Town. I spoke to a few people who travelled over from Ireland and different parts of England who commented on the fact that they were within minutes of Regents Park or the world famous Camden Lock Market, which is an experience in itself! Also to have one of the most sought after ballrooms in England, Cecil Sharp House, with the perfect dance floor made the weekend even more enjoyable. To watch thirty sets dance here on Saturday night was pure delight.
The only disadvantage was that the Sunday happened to be Mothers Day. However, Tom managed to persuade some people to bring their mothers along, as he put it so well—Johnny Reidy was a more attractive option than taking her to see Daniel O’Donnell (not to mention a better musical one as well). Gerard Butler was also christened the Robbie Williams of set dancing by a few of us, so what more could you want!
We had a good crowd over from Ireland again this year so we hope to see more of you next year and that includes you too, Bill. It would be great to see you back dancing in Camden again for a weekend. The icing on the cake was the weather—both years we have had glorious sunshine so long may it continue!
Ann Whitelock, Muswell Hill, London
The small village of Kilconly in north Galway, close to the borders with Co Mayo, held their first ceili on the May bank holiday weekend of 1991. It came about following a meeting of the village when it was decided to raise funds for the building of a community centre. The ceili was held in conjunction with a fun cycle ride from Galway city to Kilconly. Originally they thought of dancing on the road, but decided to put down a floor. Fifty sheets of plywood board were meticulously laid in front of a flatbed trailer for the band and all was set. As is usual in Ireland down came the rain but that did not deter the huge crowd that attended.
I was lent a video of the 1992 ceili and was delighted to see the men dressed in their flat caps, waistcoats and working boots, and the ladies wearing long dresses and bonnets, probably to add to the festivities. Matt Cunningham and his band played for two hours, followed by a break and then the Cahir Ceili Band played for a further two hours. The sets danced were similar to today’s, but I noticed the North Kerry set was danced with great regularity, as was the South Galway Reel Set, which isn’t danced at all now in Co Mayo. It looks like a set every one would enjoy. The proceeds of the first ceili were divided equally between Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and the building of the community centre in Kilconly.
On the 2006 May bank holiday weekend after a week of glorious weather we were all looking forward to the ceili, the floor had been laid, the flatbed trailer was in place for the band, and down came the rain! We were fortunate that the spacious community centre stands alongside, and we were able to dance in the comfort of the hall. A good crowd had gathered to dance to the lovely lively music of Pat Friel and Heather Breeze. It was very pleasing to see J P Canney of Clonberne, Co Galway, now in his 84th year, dancing as well as ever.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
A bit of sightseeing was what I had in mind when I arrived in Halifax a few days before the Easter set dancing weekend. I took the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada’s smallest province located in the Gulf of St Lawrence. A ferry sails from Nova Scotia to the island only from May to December, so I travelled there over the 13km Confederation Bridge built in 1997. The population of 140,000 is spread out over an island which is about 120 miles long and 30 miles wide, a good size for a short visit but interesting enough to make me wish I could stay longer.
My arrival on PEI coincided with a spell of stunningly beautiful weather—warm, dry, calm and completely cloudless. It felt like the end of spring but the landscape revealed that it was still the end of winter, with empty fields of deep red soil everywhere and woods of bare grey trees and scattered dark conifers. Few tourist attractions were open but I was lucky enough to visit the home of a 103-year-old woman which has been preserved as a museum in the city of Sunnyside and attend the opening of a session of the PEI parliament in the main city of Charlottetown.
The island has a small community of set dancers who attend classes taught by Helen and Gary Conboy every Wednesday in the hall of Benevolent Irish Society (founded 1825) in Charlottetown. I was hoping to attend class during my visit, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to illness. However, every week on the same night there’s also a traditional PEI ‘ceilidh’ at Lorne Valley in the east of the island and four of us set dancers had no hesitation about changing our plans to see how the locals dance.
From what little I could see in the darkness as we arrived around nine o’clock, the little hall, a former one-room schoolhouse, appeared to be located in the depths of rural PEI, surrounded by vast flat fields of stubble with hardly any other buildings in sight. Inside everyone was seated in chairs around three sides of the hall waiting for the dancing to continue, as the ceili had already been going for an hour. There was no stage, so the two musicians, a fiddle and piano, were set up on the floor at the front. We occupied some of the last empty seats and changed shoes as a waltz began.
After some waltzes, the musicians started playing jigs and couples formed a circle around the hall and began to lead around. I grabbed my partner and others joined the circle till there were around twenty couples on the floor. After the lead, couples paired off to dance a ladies chain, change partners, swing, chain back to partners and swing again. This was repeated a second time with a chain to the couple on the other side of us. After the final swing the music continued and everyone clapped till the music stopped.
This was the first figure of the dance taught as the Souris Set in Ireland by Pat Murphy, though it was unannounced and unnamed in the hall that night. The musicians quickly resumed by playing reels for the second figure, starting with another lead ’round. The couples split up as the gents turned back to swing with the lady behind them, and then the new couples led around again. This was repeated until finally you had a chance to swing your own partner and the music finished. There was one last reel figure where the ladies formed a circle in the centre and gents a second circle around them. The ladies danced in place while the gents danced around the circle and back to place. We brought our hands over the ladies’ heads and advanced and retired twice together, swung our partners and then led around. These moves were repeated with the gents inside and ladies outside. The set ended with a final double grand chain where the gents turned every lady.
My description is only a very basic synopsis of the movements actually danced on the floor that night. The set actually appeared to be halfway between Irish set dancing and chaos. Everyone seemed to be dancing their own version of the set, which was repeated in its entirety three more times while I was there and perhaps twice before we arrived. The swings could last from two to sixteen bars, even longer, with the whole circle waiting eight bars for one couple to finish swinging so we could lead around again. Similarly, the lead ’rounds seemed to finish by consensus rather than according to the music. When changing partners in the second figure I wasn’t too sure when I was supposed to release my lady and take the next one, so I took my cue from the couple in front and sometimes found the next lady patiently waiting behind me on her own—“Sorry to keep you,” I apologised. Most people walked the set, though there were a few who did some step dancing while leading around or dancing in place. In the grand chain at the end, the gents turned the ladies under their arms, but several ladies held their arms firmly in place so you couldn’t turn them. The set is easy enough for anyone to do, even non-dancers, apart from the unusual ladies chain in the first figure which I’d like a bit more practice on.
Two fiddlers and two pianists took turns playing music, the style of which was similar to the music of nearby Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. Nearly all the jigs and reels I heard would be familiar to set dancers in Ireland. I danced with some of the local ladies who told me that their regular fiddler was away and that the two tonight were filling in. They were pleased with the music of one elderly fiddler, though the other, nearly as old, switched from jigs to reels part way through the first figure and from reels to jigs in another figure and this didn’t go down well with one of my partners. I enjoyed it all myself. There was music for a round of ballroom dances between sets and more waltzes later.
At ten o’clock we had a break for ‘lunch’, which was what they called their tea break. Tea, sandwiches and cake were served, and soft drinks and snacks were also on sale. On admission everyone was handed a ticket for a door prize and more tickets were sold during lunch for a fifty-fifty raffle—the sole winner took home a prize of .50, half the raffle proceeds.
Before the dancing resumed after lunch, there was a birthday celebration for one of the regular ladies, with cake, candles and song. She was noticeably merry thanks to the celebrations and to the Pepsi she was drinking, though I was told she was just as merry on other nights. She was always dancing complicated steps when she was on the floor herself and gave strong encouragement to all the passing dancers when she was sitting out.
The break finished with yet another occurrence of the Souris Set and I was ready for another go, but the two PEI set dancers who brought us here, Fred Burke and Mary Horne, quickly gathered us into a half-set. We danced a bit of the Ballyvourney Jig and a bit of the Plain Set in a little corner at the back while the rest of them danced in their big circle. A few spectators enjoyed our display and complimented us when the set was over.
Afterward there were a few songs and ballroom dances while folks drifted away. The welcomes were repeated and we were encouraged to come back again. The dancers were mostly middle-aged and older, some in their eighties. A young lad of about 18 sold raffle tickets; we asked why he didn’t bring his friends along and he made it clear this was not a place for youngsters. He came to help out with his grandmother. A couple of the 80-year-old ladies I met made up for the lack of teenagers by acting like kids themselves, making mischievous fun and jokes. They asked me to be sure to come back and I promised them I’d return at my earliest opportunity.
April is when hundreds of set dancers head off to spend a week or two under the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. At Easter I headed off in the opposite direction for my third visit to a grey, chilly and very damp Halifax, Nova Scotia. Whatever the conditions outdoors, there was beautiful warmth indoors thanks to the friendly dancers attending the eleventh annual Halifax set dancing weekend, 14-17 April. It’s a small weekend of dancing with just a handful of local and visiting participants—at one point during the Saturday workshop I counted six sets. Most of the dancing takes place in a house, and the other venues are just as intimate and informal, so it’s like a whole weekend of parties among friends.
The opening ceili on Friday night was scheduled for 8pm, and my gracious hosts were late enough getting out the door that I was certain I’d miss the first set. Luckily the Halifax dancers have the same attitude to time as found in Ireland. When we arrived at Titanic House, the modest old mansion serving as our venue for the weekend, the doors were locked—at about quarter past eight we were the first to arrive! A resident of the house let us in and we waited for the organisers, musicians and dancers to come. It didn’t take long before the first set, the Corofin Plain, was called, starting with two sets of dancers and finishing with four. Pat Murphy has been the honoured guest teacher at every Halifax weekend, and he was on hand to call the Newmarket Meserts for us. We danced a total of seven sets with long breaks between them to let visitors and locals renew acquaintances and help themselves to hot and cold drinks and homemade cookies and squares. Music was by a team of six led by Kevin Roach on fiddle and Jane Lombard mostly on mandolin, plus pipes, banjo, flute and bodhran.
I’m always surprised at how there are more dancers at the workshops than at the ceilis in Halifax, a testament to Pat Murphy’s popularity here after visiting faithfully for eleven years. In the morning session beginning at 9.30am, Pat warmed us up with the simple Lusmagh Set from Offaly and then there was great fun with the Tory Island Set. A two-hour lunch break gave ample time for a meal in one of the lovely restaurants in downtown Halifax. After lunch, the featured set of the day was the new Clashmore Set from Co Waterford. Even though I hadn’t seen it before it was very familiar thanks to its similarity to the Ballyduff Set. I love the little back-to-back circle in the second figure. After spending most of the afternoon on it, there was time for a go at the Back-to-Back Hornpipe before the 4pm finish.
I wasn’t quite as anxious about arriving on time for the Saturday night ceili as the night before, though we did manage to arrive at 8pm. This time the door was open, there were eight musicians inside all ready to play and no other dancers in sight. The musicians were raring to go and played a few waltzes for their own amusement, so two of us invited partners to dance and had the floor to ourselves. I had been informed quite proudly by one of the locals that they’d been practicing waltzing in their weekly class, but unfortunately most of them missed their only chance of the weekend to try it out. The band continued with some reels and four Toronto dancers were quick to form a half set to dance the Plain Set. My partner and I and another couple joined in as sides and as more arrived they made more sets or stood watching us sheepishly. The non-stop music was fantastic, starting the night off on a very high note.
The band was nearly a string orchestra, with three fiddles, three mandolins, a guitar and bodhran. Kevin led again with his strong, fast Nova Scotia-style playing together with Jane who alternated between mandolin and accordion. The dancing officially began with the Kilfenora Set and luckily for those who’d missed that first Plain Set there was a second chance to dance it at the end of the night. Pat Murphy took up the box to join the band for that final set. We did the Clashmore Set from the workshop and also enjoyed a performance of the solo dance Rodney’s Glory by four Halifax dancers. The generous breaks between sets gave us a chance to talk, eat and drink, and also to hunt for little chocolate Easter eggs hidden around the room.
On Easter Sunday we all felt bright and sunny inside even if the weather outside didn’t match. Many of the dancers met for midday brunch at the Old Triangle Pub in downtown Halifax to socialise before the regular dance session from 2 to 4pm. They dance here every Sunday of the year with space for just a set or two, but with all the visitors we had to move aside enough tables and chairs for four or more sets. Kevin and Jane always lead the musicians here and gave another energetic performance. We were in a jolly mood and there was plenty of playful mischief in the sets. The dancing finished on time, though the music continued informally for at least another hour. Visitors making their way home offered goodbyes, but for most of us the weekend wasn’t over just yet.
Many of the locals went off to Easter dinner with their families. Any of the weekend visitors who found themselves orphaned for the night were kindly invited to a house party by Mern O’Brien and John Brett.
On Monday night, the congregation gathering in the basement of St Paul’s Catholic Church in Dartmouth, just across the river from Halifax, were looking forward to another workshop with Pat Murphy. The spacious hall has a hard linoleum floor, so all the dancers climbed onto the stage for its more comfortable timber floor. Pat taught the Cratloe Set from west Limerick (not to be confused with Cratloe, Co Clare) which is unique in starting with reel not unlike the High-Cauled Cap. Pat took his time teaching the reel, with its complicated body and short figures, as the rest of the figures were easy polkas, slides and a hornpipe. There was fun in the bright lights on stage that night.
The final goodbyes were postponed when nearly everyone went to a nearby pub after class. There was more music there from Kevin and Jane in session and Pat Murphy joined in for a few tunes. There were fond farewells from all as we stepped out into the cold night, sorry to leave but delighted to have been there.
An early arrival in Chicago for the Comhaltas convention gave me the chance to spend a night dancing at O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub in Milwaukee, where they have a class and ceili every Wednesday night. Pat Murphy was pleased to join me, as well as Andrea Forstner from Erlangen, Germany. I wondered if I should phone Milwaukee to confirm that the ceili was taking place as scheduled, but Pat dissuaded me from that idea. We both like to slip in unnanounced, even with the risk of finding a dark empty venue.
Once I got onto the highway in Chicago, the journey was trouble free and we found O’Donoghue’s in the suburb of Elm Grove without any bother. After a discreet amount of time we slipped into the hall while Gail Clarke was teaching the Ballyvourney Jig Set to four sets of beginners. Gail welcomed us and gave us an introduction to the class, and there were additional warm welcomes as new dancers arrived all the time. We made up a set to dance along with the class, and I was impressed how well the dancers progressed. Some of them were on very shaky ground at the start, but by the end of the class Gail had them moving like clockwork.
The rest of the night was a three-hour ceili with excellent live music by as many as eight local musicians of all ages. The dancing was spirited and full of fun with up five sets participating. We started with the Mazurka Set and had a real go at the Ballyvourney, as well as another six or more sets during the night. I thought each one would be the last and then they kept having another! The hall at the back of the pub was a perfect venue with a beautiful wall-to-wall sprung floor. The music kept going all the time, and even after the dancing really had finished, several of the players continued trading tunes long afterward. We drove back to Chicago feeling on top of the world.
Chicago was basking in the warmth of a spell of early summer weather when I arrived for a weekend of dancing at the North American Comhaltas Convention from the 20th to the 23rd of April. There were tulips along the airport roads, delicate green leaves emerging on all the trees, clear blue skies and gentle warm sun. The city’s trademark winds appeared to be taking a few days off.
The convention is a major annual event for Irish musicians and dancers in North America, held in a different city each year. This year’s convention was hosted by the Murphy-Roche Irish Music Club led by Mike and Kelly Chole. It was a weekend of pleasure without any competitions, though Comhaltas members had to sacrifice some of the dancing to attend business meetings. The rest of us were free to enjoy ourselves at the plentiful workshops and ceilis. The weekend cost for all dance events plus four meals including the Saturday banquet. The hotel rate was per night for a room which could be shared by four.
The convention occupied the Crown Plaza Hotel near Chicago’s main airport, O’Hare International, around fifteen miles from the city centre. The location at a useful transport hub with numerous highways crossing the area and a rail station nearby for easy transport to the city. The hotel is a high-rise building with vast public areas on the ground floor. After I registered on Thursday evening I was taken to see the enormous ballroom and its timber floor. The floor panels were trucked in to the hotel and assembled by volunteers to form a smooth unbroken surface. Two-thirds of the floor was smooth and slippy; the other third at the back had a stickier surface for those needing extra stability.
A much smaller room in the hotel basement was set up as an alternative dance venue, and this was where the weekend’s first ceili was on Thursday night. Six or eight sets of early arrivals from all over North America fit perfectly into the small room and we made ourselves an atmosphere of fun. The sets mostly alternated with ceili, though I spotted four couples doing a set in the corner during one of the ceili dances. Music was by three or four Chicago musicians who did a fine job. During the Ballyvourney Jig an elderly gentleman visiting from Clare found the music too slow for his taste and after the first figure asked the band to play faster. He went back to them again after the second figure. This time the lead musician came off his break and sat down with his fiddle to supply some excellent slides—the gentleman from Clare was now satisfied. The dancing was exceptionally warm without ventilation or air conditioning under a low ceiling. An hotel engineer was called out and opened the vents to supply some relief for the last set of the night. This was the only time I soaked a shirt all weekend, so the comfort was excellent for the remaining ceilis.
We had time on Friday morning for a lie-in and a relaxed breakfast, as Pat Murphy’s opening workshop began at 1pm in the main ballroom. Everyone joining in was so keen to dance that sets were formed before Pat even had a chance to begin. When he announced that we were going to learn the Tory Island Set and asked for volunteers to demonstrate, a full set from New Orleans immediately volunteered. I’m used to the opposite behaviour in Ireland where no one will volunteer without a personal invitation from the teacher. The rest of the dancers stood in a crowd around the demo set as Pat explained the set and danced the figures. It was a great choice to begin—an enjoyable set with lots of neat moves. The same was true of the Derry Set (Seit Doire Cholmcille) afterward, demonstrated once again by the eager New Orleanians.
The Friday night ceili was also in the main ballroom with music by Ceoltóirí Chicago, a four-piece band on box, fiddle, piano and drums who delivered the true sound of an Irish ceili band. The programme was evenly mixed again tonight, to cater for both set and ceili dancers. Pat Murphy called the Labasheeda Set, the Two-Hand Jig and the Peeler and Goat, among other dances that night that we all enjoyed. I had many good partners asking me to dance, and found myself booked up for two or three at a time. One lady booked me in advance for a set which I gladly accepted, and when the appointed set came around it turned out to be the Corofin, but my partner had taken another gent instead! “Now you’ll never trust me again,” she said, apologising, while I quickly found myself a fresh partner. I didn’t mind at all but played hard to get with her for a while and asked her for another dance at the next ceili.
After the ceili there was another three hours of dancing at a popular and very good late session. A new crowd of as many as ten musicians set themselves up in the smaller dance hall in the basement and folks drifted down slowly. Music sounded great in the small room and the six sets had a informal yet lively session of sets. People drifted off to bed after each dance but it didn’t finish until around 4am.
Late dancers would have had a very short night if they came to Pat Murphy’s workshop bright and early at 9am. Pat started with the Clashmore Set and picked a few invited dancers to demonstrate with him. In explaining the battering step used in the set he gave us some sound advice—“Don’t look at your feet or you might make them nervous.” There were close to twenty sets to start, and people drifted in throughout the morning, forming new sets with every figure, so that there were around 25 by the time we started the next set. The morning session finished at 11am and didn’t resume until 2.20pm, so there was time to catch up on missing sleep and get a leisurely lunch. Meals were served in the hall adjacent to the ballroom; four efficient serving queues, one in each corner of the room, made it quick and easy to get a meal. The highlight of the afternoon was the East Galway Set, long version. After the workshop people were slow to leave and stayed chatting in the hall. I eavesdropped on a few ladies discussing their foot problems. One of their friends came back from the adjacent hall full of excitement—one of the commercial vendors was a podiatrist giving free consultations! The group of them quickly got up to investigate.
On Saturday nights at previous conventions the big banquet has been known to clash with the ceili, but everything ran like clockwork this year. The banquet is a sit-down dinner served by hotel staff, and most of the guests took the opportunity to wear their best togs. Fortunately, the hotel had enough space to devote a separate hall to the banquet so that there was no need to move tables and chairs before the dancing could begin. Speeches and performances were kept to a minimum and took place during the meal. In fact when the meal ended, there was still an hour before the ceili, and this was when we were presented with a very pleasant surprise—well-known Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll gave a performance accompanied by guitarist John Doyle. Her appearance was unannounced so the folks who left after dinner to get ready for the ceili missed a good show.
As soon as the show was over it was time for the ceili, which began right on time. This time there were no ceili dances as there was a separate fíor ceili in the downstairs hall. The music of Ceoltóirí Chicago sent the dancers flying through the sets, beginning with the Kilfenora. My next set was the Labasheeda, and my partner for it was Joanna Dupuis, a teacher from up the road in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was interested to learn that she offers five-week courses in doubling as part of her curriculum and these are popular with her dancers. Over the course of weekend we practiced a few doubles ourselves and broke new ground in that Labasheeda Set on Saturday night. I expect she’ll be offering quadrupling classes shortly. Pat Murphy called the sets, many of which were chosen by request, including the Derradda and North Kerry. The ceili ended around 1.30am and by 2am many folks had resumed dancing with renewed enthusiasm downstairs in the late session. The team of seven musicians were led by a roving fiddler with a wireless microphone who did a great job of getting people out to dance. The change of venue and music generated enough energy to keep the sets moving till 4am, though I was in bed dreaming of doubling by that time.
The Sunday schedule allowed time for some welcome sleep in the morning and a late brunch before the workshop began at 11.30am. Pat taught the Loughgraney Set for an hour and spent a second hour teaching two-hand dances. The first of these was the Canadian Barn Dance and when Pat announced it there was a huge cheer from the Toronto dancers, though he did mention that it actually isn’t a Canadian dance. The Toronto crowd were easy to pick out from everyone else thanks to their infectious enthusiasm and also by their club T-shirts which were plainly marked with a large L and R, which made them experts at distinguishing left from right. We also danced the Peeler and the Goat, Waltz of the Bells and the Back-to-Back Hornpipe.
It was handy having brunch before the workshop, as it meant the ceili could start immediately following the workshop without a break for another meal. We began dancing to recorded music while the members of the Murphy-Roche Irish Music Club readied themselves to play, and soon we continued the sets and ceili dances to live music. Ed Heffernan from Iowa did all the calling, except for the Kilfenora Set which Pat Murphy called. Part way through the ceili, a team of volunteers with rechargeable electric screwdrivers appeared. They partitioned off the sticky section of floor (everyone preferred the main slippy section) with a line of chairs and began taking it apart while the rest of us kept dancing. Fortunately we were able to finish the ceili with the Plain Set long before they reached the main floor. Afterward some of the goodbyes were hurried as many grabbed their suitcases stashed around the ballroom and made their way to airport buses, myself included. The lucky ones were those who didn’t need to rush away and could wind down in comfort after a great weekend packed with plenty of dancing.
The Chicago Comhaltas Convention offered more than just dancing, with sessions happening at any hour in various locations, music workshops and concerts. The city and good weather was another major attraction, but I never set foot outside the hotel during the convention and never gave the outside world a single thought. I was delighted with the very full programme workshops, ceilis and late sessions and was thrilled to meet enthusiastic dancers from all parts of the States and Canada in one convenient location.
The 23rd annual set dancing workshop was held in Lordship on the Cooley Peninsula, Co Louth, on the weekend of 29th and 30th April. This workshop has been held on an annual basis since 1983 when Joe and Siobhán O’Donovan conducted the first workshop in the Bush Vocational School.
Our workshop was tinged with an element of sadness when it was learned on the Saturday morning that a nephew of Gerry Butler, who was to conduct the workshop, had died during the night. The child, a six-month-old boy, had suffered a cot death and all present at the workshop offered their deepest sympathy to the Butler and Harman family on their tragic loss.
In Gerry’s absence Kathleen and I were asked to conduct the workshop which we willingly did in the circumstances offering apologies for Gerry’s unavoidable absence. The usual
cupan taewas available to all arrivals at the workshop and at 11am the dancing commenced with the teaching of the Rathgormack Lancers, a set recently revived in Waterford by Mary and Bronagh Murphy. This is becoming a very popular set and was also taught this year at Fleadh Ibiza. When this set was completed Kathleen taught about five sean nós steps which brought us up to the lunch time break. The usual refreshments were served at lunchtime much to the satisfaction of the participants.
In the afternoon the Monaghan and Dunmanway sets were danced. Both these sets were taught by Joe and Siobhan O’Donovan in the early years. The music used for the Dunmanway set was from a tape specially made up by Joe for use with the set. It is a tape that I treasure. Refreshments were again served in mid-afternoon, giving the dancers sustenance for the remainder of the evening.
The session ended at five o’clock and the dancers dispersed for a well-earned rest in preparation for the night time ceili. Our workshop was very well supported and we were delighted to welcome to Lordship eight dancers from Corsica who joined us for the weekend. They read about the workshop in the Set Dancing News. They really appreciated the hospitality afforded them and they vowed to return.
We had a marvelous ceili on Saturday night with the Four Provinces Ceili Band. Sadly, Colin Butler the drummer was absent due to the family bereavement.
On Sunday morning at 11am more than forty dancers attended the sean nós workshop conducted by Kathleen. She taught about ten steps, which were well received and learned by all present. She used the music of Andrew McNamara on his CD
The Dawn which is ideal for learners of sean nós dancing. Track one, which is Miss McCloud’s Reel is played at a pace which is ideally suitable for those wishing to be involved in sean nós dancing. Refreshments were again made available after this session in preparation for the afternoon ceili.
The Glenside were the band on stage for the afternoon and they looked very well with their newly acquired tans from their recent visit to Ibiza. Their music was electrifying and they were given a standing ovation at the end of the evening. All dancers went home happy after a very successful weekend.
The committee responsible for this weekend are to be commended for the great effort they put into this function, their only reward being the satisfaction and pride at having done a good job. Because of the success of the event it looks as if plans will have to be put in train for a similar event next year.
It seems like there’s a thousand little things that add up to making the Castletown weekend, 28 April–1 May, the unique pleasure it is. There’s the village of Castletown, Co Laois, that appears so clean, quiet and open after a busy journey on a bank holiday Friday; the timeless buildings and beautiful grounds of the Pastoral Centre which serve as home for a weekend; the warm welcome in the session room by dancers visiting from afar; a generous free supper on Friday available to all along with constant hot water for tea at all hours all weekend; rooms with high ceilings and windows down long dark corridors; doors that don’t lock but all valuables are completely safe; showers that might be occupied, broken or without hot water; the English beekeeper who freely dispenses his homemade honey fudge; dining hall meals that remind us of our school days; enormous long queues for tea, sandwiches and cakes that are well worth the wait.
These are just some of the minor pleasures of the Half-Door Club weekend. The major pleasure we’d all come to share was the dancing, and that began on Friday night in the Community Centre with the amazing music of Johnny Reidy and band. No matter how many times you’ve danced to him in the past, there’s a thrill that can’t be beat when that music fires up for first figure of the first set. Johnny starts on a high note and never relaxes until the national anthem. We enjoyed every minute, including three Plain sets in a row (not counting the waltz, quickstep and break in-between two of them) and Johnny’s trademark Sliabh Luachra followed by the Connemara. French dancers came in abundance to Castletown, some spectators, but most them enjoying every minute on the floor. England, Italy, Germany and Japan were also well represented. Afterward, folks gathered for the late session in the Pastoral Centre; it was rather quiet, but the weekend was only getting started.
At breakfast in the Pastoral Centre we helped ourselves to tea and cereal and burnt our own toast. The accommodation package cost €130 and included a bed for three nights and eight meals. The rooms were all full and many folks were filling B&Bs and hotels in the area. The more independent minded set dancers came in caravans and campers which were parked by the Community Centre and Pastoral Centre and in the street. The two centres were a pleasant five minutes’ walk apart, separated by a castle, an old mill factory, a golf course and the river Nore, so you didn’t need any transport once you arrived. A full dance ticket was €48 for five ceilis and two workshops.
Pat Murphy’s workshop on Saturday morning and afternoon were as enjoyable as a ceili. I’d attended his workshops on each of the two previous weekends, and after three in a row I was still enjoying them as much as ever. Each workshop is different, new location, different dancers, but Pat always gives his full attention to everyone and provides thorough training in the sets. He has a ball doing so and we can’t help but enjoy ourselves too. Pat’s sets of the day included the Fermanagh Quadrilles, Clashmore and the long East Galway. Jim Monaghan also offered beginners’ classes to two sets of mostly French dancers in the ICA Hall near the Pastoral Centre. While Jim’s enthusiasm for dancing is hard to beat, he takes his teaching seriously and puts a lot of effort into preparing for workshops. When Pat finished his afternoon workshop, there was a performance by two young step dancers, pupils of local instructor Maura Shanahan, whom I was told has been dancing for 54 years. It’s a good thing she was attending the workshops all day, because when her youngsters saw everyone dancing they wanted to learn the sets too! There was a bit more training after the workshops when some of the French dancers requested battering instruction; a couple of dancers obliged with an informal workshop in the Castletown Inn, a pub on the main street.
The big ceili on Saturday night gave a welcome chance to hear the Star of Munster Ceili Band. They warmed us up with a Caledonian Set and a fine selection of other sets from Clare and selected counties as well. The waltzes included My Old Sligo Home, an old favourite sung with style by drummer Dave Culligan. The tea break left the musicians in exceptionally fine form as they played their hearts out in the second half. With the great tunes and players formerly associated with the late Michael Sexton and his ceili band, I could almost imagine that Michael himself was with us for the night. Afterward the late session was livelier tonight, thanks to the presence of more musicians, singers and listeners. The French visitors performed their own music and dances, and there was enough entertainment to last till around 6am, as I learned the next morning.
During the Sunday morning workshop, Pat gave us a couple of Kerry sets, the Lispole and the Valentia Left and Right, for lots of lively fun. There was even greater fun after lunch when Micheál Sexton (son of Michael) and Pat Walsh played for the weekend’s third ceili. The music from the dynamic duo was stunning and the dancing was bliss. Micháel is truly a chip off the old block, or more like a chip and half! His playing has the light touch of a master which makes the dancing effortless. His box does things you won’t hear anywhere else and the many embellishments add enormously to the pleasure. He changed tunes as easily as I can blink my eyes and paused for hardly a second between figures. During the Ballyvourney Jig Set near the end of the ceili I noticed that Micheál has worked out a set of non-stop slides which changed at the start of each figure and gave an extra boost as the tops set off each time. Pat’s keyboard accompaniment is rhythmic and balanced; they’re a perfect combo. The afternoon was superb inside, though wet outside. The dance platform just outside the back door was uncovered before the ceili only to get a soaking from the rain.
There was a serious danger of getting too much of a good thing in Castletown—the Abbey Ceili Band played for the Saturday night ceili. The energy levels started high and only increased with every set so that the atmosphere was electric. We were most fortunate to dance two Kerry sets to the band’s inspiring polkas—the Valentia Right and Left which we practiced in the workshop, and one of my all-time favourites, the West Kerry. Life feels complete when you dance a great West Kerry! Sunday’s late session in the Pastoral Centre following the ceili is the one not to miss, and it seemed as though almost everyone at the ceili found seats or standing room there. There was plenty of Irish music, song and dance, plus more from the French visitors and a special appearance by Jim Monaghan, who performed a couple of songs in his unique Elvis style following numerous requests. The ladies were so aroused by his performance that several of them tossed their underwear at him! One of the regular sessioneers would be sorely missed if she wasn’t here every year—Louise Condron from Tullamore plays whistle and flute with passion, sings like an angel and has a disposition to match. When the music finished around 7am Louise then spent a further hour cleaning mugs and the session room.
By the time of the weekend’s last ceili on bank holiday Monday afternoon, the weather had improved enough to show a bit of sunshine. I arrived early as usual at the ceili to find the stage empty, but the Davey Ceili Band weren’t long behind me. They set up quickly and were ready to go on time with the first set. John Davey, the leader and accompanist of the band, had recently finished a weekend in Ibiza playing with his son Nigel on box and Laura Beagon on fiddle, two former members of the band, but today he had his regular musicians, daughters Amanda (flute) and Lorna (box) and Brian Fitzpatrick (banjo). John offered congratulations to Lorna and Brian on their recent marriage and all the dancers were delighted for them and showed their approval with a bit of a song and a round of applause. Lorna’s fantastic accordion playing is very popular with dancers and it was good news to hear that she and Brian will continue to play with the band for many of their ceilis. Jim Monaghan was invited to call a set and gave us the Killyon Set from Co Offaly. While it was popular a few years back, it’s not often danced now so Jim gave a thorough explanation of how it goes and demonstrated the most challenging moves. It worked out well in my set and was a pleasure to dance.
By the time the ceili was over we’d all been elevated to a real dancing high that lasted for days after my departure from Castletown. Each of the ceilis was superb, and to have five of them in succession made me feel very fortunate indeed. The workshops, sessions and camaraderie rounded out one of the most pleasurable weekends of the year. Many of set dancing’s biggest events have moved to hotels in recent years, but the Castletown weekend proves that a good village can still host a successful weekend.
A set dancing wedding is a rare delight.
We were treated to one last Saturday night.
The ceremony in the afternoon
I dare not forget.
It was much more important than any set.
Jeanett and Lance were the happy pair.
We felt privileged and honoured to be there.
Yes we were there when they made that pledge
That forever their lives to merge.
Their faces radiated happiness and joy
As did all the guests who were close by.
They made their vows that were for life
And left that ceremony as husband and wife.
The bride was beautiful, she looked divine.
She came from Germany, the land of the Rhine.
The groom displayed great polish flair.
They certainly were a handsome pair.
A harpist and singer with a beautiful voice
Serenaded the happy couple
With melodies that were sweet and nice.
The town hall in Wells was the venue
And much entertainment was on the menu.
The bride and groom being set dancers themselves
Said, “there was no time to waste.”
The Clare Lancers was then danced with considerable haste.
The Connemara and Sliabh Luachra followed very soon.
Everyone was dancing in that room.
Breton dancers were also there dancing steps with skill and flair.
The food was next, the quality of which you could not exaggerate.
It was a banquet, it was great.
They were now two bands playing in that hall.
Breton dancing and set dancing we did them all.
The cake was cut next to much applause.
The dancers had some time to rest and pause.
The Ballyvourney was the last set we danced before we went home.
It is now nearly time to finish this poem.
Jeanett and Lance what can I say?
Only thank you for a beautiful day and also a night.
It was fantastic, a pure delight.
Soon we may have to bid you both farewell.
I believe you are returning to Germany to work and dwell.
We wish you both many years of luck, prosperity and fame.
Without you set dancing in Somerset, Devon and Bristol
Will never be the same.
Seamus Garry, Bristol, England
The 2006 winter Olympic games held in Turin, Italy, were no comparison to the St Patrick’s holiday that we have always had in Turin, which this year was on Saturday and Sunday, March 11-12, organized by our Irish set dance teachers, Flora and Mario Sarzotti and conducted by the very well-known Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey. No comparison? Perhaps I have exaggerated a little bit. As a matter of fact, for the Turin 2006 Olympic Games more than a million people came from all over the world. We were more or less fifty, yes fifty! But we were fifty people with huge enthusiasm and a crazy will to dance!
The meeting began on Saturday morning with a sean nós lesson, for lovers of battering. After lunch at 2.30pm we had a big and joyful meeting to start the sets, with happy people coming even from Milan (150km away). The Fermanagh Quadrilles and Dunmanway sets were explained well and in a simple way, thanks to Flora translating very well. The level of the dancers was exellent with some exceptions—an old nut (me)! For the big evening ceili we were lucky to have one of the more appreciated Italian Irish bands: the Zest of Francesco Colucci, a great fiddler. Poor crazy ones, we danced until two in the morning, and I don’t know why, but in Italy we don’t finish with the national anthem, but always with the ‘slow, light, soft, delicate’ Ballyvourney Jig Set! The fire brigade arrived to pour water on smoking feet! We did away with the usual six dancers who declared that they wished to start dancing at seven on Sunday morning! We all met like Swiss trains at ten o’clock, some limping, some wobbling, more held up by near relatives.
Staring ahead, lost, but big Mulkerrin and lovely Mairéad know well the tricks of the trade—how to revive Lazarus the set dancer! In less than half an hour, we experienced a big explosion of sets—the Monaghan, Roscahill and the dynamic Cavan Set, explained as a competition set and also wonderfully danced by the two teachers with fabulous battering that is only possible to see in Ireland! Poor Mick! You shouldn’t done that! It’s like overtaking an Italian driving his car! In this mood you have aroused a challenge and of course we have destroyed him with the terrifying uproar of a mad battering without any control and for the incredible mess!
From the Olympic Games, Turin, Co Piedmont, Italy, we say goodbye to all the Irish set dancers, those very lucky ones! Yes, they can dance as much as they like, and not only with the best ceili bands, on wooden rebounding floors that we don’t have! Thanks especially to Mairéad Casey and Mick Mulkerrin, both very pleasant and professional. And a big thanks too to Set Dancing News magazine that will have the courage to publish this awful [and heavily edited] article.
Silvestro Torre, Turin, Italy
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357