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).
Summer weather is a rare enough occurrence in Ireland, even at the height of summer, that it is something to be savoured and enjoyed to the full. Normally we never know when the fine weather is going to happen, but however they manage it in Birr, Co Offaly, you can be certain it will be warm, dry and sunny for the annual Comhaltas set dancing weekend at the beginning of June. So not only do we have great music, teachers and dancers, we also have the benefit of the beautiful town of Birr at its summery best.
This year the entire weekend took place in the town centre at the Marian Hall opposite the majestic Birr Castle, even the Friday night ceili which in previous years had taken place elsewhere or not at all. No ceili is allowed to alter the weekly bingo night, but this year the dancing conveniently began once the bingo had finished. The hall was littered with tables, chairs and bingo cards, but this was quickly cleared to allow the ceili to begin at 10.20pm, only a few minutes later than usual. The music of the Star of Munster Ceili Band filled the rest of the night with a selection of favourite sets plus some waltzes.
At the Saturday workshop Pádraig and Róisín McEneany taught three old sets and one which has never been taught before. Before each set they had everyone practice steps, which was beneficial to all dancers. They began with the Gillen Set from Co Offaly which was introduced by Connie Ryan but is rarely danced. It features its own special step which the sides are lucky enough to dance for sixteen bars in three of the four figures. To share the fun equally Pádraig swapped the tops and sides for each figure. The Caragh Lake Jig Set is another of Connie’s, and it too has a unique feature—a beautiful square, which when danced to the right music can be close to the experience of flying.
The day was warm and sunny and we spent our breaks enjoying the outdoors. As luck would have it there was a fruit and vegetable stall just beside the hall and I had the pleasure of tasting my first strawberries of the year while dancing sets.
After lunch the Ballintogher Lancers Set made its first appearance on the workshop stage. Ballintogher is a tiny village in Co Sligo and most of the village must have been present in the hall then to help launch the set. Pádraig skipped the difficult first figure and walked through the rest without a demonstration to music. The most challenging move was called “jazzing,” which was like going around the house using a walking step. The hardest part was walking to reels and jigs when you’re used to dancing steps. The day ended with the Sliabh gCua Set, the original Waterford set which has been danced for many years, long before the Ballyduff and Clashmore sets made their appearance on the workshop circuit.
The Saturday night ceili offered the immensely satisfying music of the Glenside Ceili Band. The selection of sets included the Borlin and the first four figures of the Caragh Lake. In the Borlin Set we danced the slide figure where you repeat a square four times. This demonstrated to me that counting and dancing do not mix too well. I managed to count to three, but then I lost track after that! There was a welcome pause in the sets in the second half of the night when a succession of solo dancers showed their remarkable skills. The greatest applause was awarded to the sean nós dancing by the weekend’s two young organisers, Donal and Ronan Morrissey.
Another talented young dancer, Sinéad Bray, held a sean nós dancing workshop on Sunday morning. Her teaching is relaxed and easy to follow, and her steps are achievable by most dancers. After two hours of nearly non-stop practice around fifty dancers were able to take home several new steps. Age matters little to dancers—Sinéad was younger than nearly all her students, many of whom were twice her age and older.
Dancers were so excited by the music of the Emerald Ceili Band that they cheered after each figure of the Caledonian and Derradda sets, and through the rest of the Sunday afternoon ceili as well. After a particularly lively Lancers Set, I heard Doreen Corrigan from Dublin comment, “That’s not the Clare Lancers—it’s the Clare Cavalry!” This was the best weather of the weekend with cloudless skies and plenty of warm sunshine. During the break the hall emptied and dancers lounged on the lawn with their cups of tea, cakes and biscuits. But even such nice weather took second place to the last ceili of the weekend, because everyone quickly returned to the hall to finish the ceili when the Emerald went back on stage.
By the close of the weekend, prodigious amounts of energy, enjoyment and perspiration had been generated by the musicians and dancers over the course of three days. The satisfaction, as well as the beautiful weather, followed me home and stayed with me for days afterward.
In my often haphazard way, I hadn’t arranged any accommodation for the eighth Connie Ryan Gathering in Clonoulty, Co Tipperary, 9-11 June 2006, when with just a couple of days to spare I received a phone call from my landlady of the two previous years asking if I wanted to take her room again this year. I very gratefully accepted. This is the kind of friendly, personal attention that makes dancing in Clonoulty such a pleasure. The welcome when I arrived on Friday afternoon was the same as if I was a member of the family.
The Friday ceili began right on time at 9am, an early time for set dancers to begin dancing, so there was plenty of space at first. The tiny village of Clonoulty has no venue large enough to host a weekend, so the locals erect a spacious marquee and carefully lay a homemade floor which always serves us quite well. There was a welcome to all from Margaret Slattery, one of the organisers and sister of Connie Ryan. Music was by Pat Walsh and Micheál Sexton, who had a new microphone for his box which let him roam the floor while playing. He came off the stage for a sound check during a waltz. I was amazed to see him walk to the end of the marquee and back, chatting to folks as he went, and make a great leap up to return to the stage, all without dropping a single note. Playing music comes as naturally to Micheál as breathing does to the rest of us.
The selection of sets at the Gathering is second to none, thanks to the calling of Michael Loughnane. Among the more interesting sets were the Sliabh Luachra, Labasheeda, Clare Orange and Green and Ballyduff, which was the last set of the night. During the fifth figure of the Sliabh Luachra, Michael spotted a young couple from Cork dancing their own steps to slides. Later during a break he asked the pair to dance their steps for all to see, and they were highly entertaining.
Betty McCoy and Pat Murphy began the Saturday morning workshop with the Dunmanway Set and continued with the Clashmore. This was when we were visited by a delegation of a dozen or so newly qualified Chinese police officers. They were on a training course in London in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and had come to Tipperary to visit the Garda College in Templemore. Their visit to Clonoulty was purely for enjoyment and they entered with cameras blazing as we were dancing. When we started the next figure, they were eager to join in, so they were partnered with experienced dancers and distributed among the sets. All spoke good English and mixed very well with us. The pleasure of dancing showed on every one of their faces.
We missed our Chinese friends when they didn’t return after lunch, but with only experienced dancers remaining we went quickly through the East Galway, Derry (Doire Cholmcille) and Kilmeena (like a feature length version of the Derradda) sets with time to spare for the Back-to-Back Hornpipe.
During the workshop I spoke to a group of nine dancers from Naas, Co Kildare, who make their weekend in Clonoulty even more of a special occasion by staying in a nearby B&B situated an old castle which serves multi-course gourmet dinners. That’s going dancing in style!
I was looking forward to the Saturday night ceili as a chance to hear the new Davey Ceili Band. Two members of the band, Lorna Davey (box) and Brian Fitzgerald (banjo) recently married and are semi-retired from the band. Replacing them are two former members, Nigel Davey (box) and Laura Beagon (fiddle). When I first saw the Daveys in London many years ago I was impressed by Nigel’s virtuosity and was delighted to hear him playing again in Clonoulty. They had every bit of the spark and passion we were used to in recent years with Lorna and Brian. Paying a welcome return visit to the ceili were the Chinese police officers, who threw themselves wholeheartedly into the dancing, with the assistance of their numerous experienced partners who helped them through the sets.
Walking from my car to the church for Connie Ryan’s memorial Mass on Sunday morning I met a dancer who instead persuaded me to go for a walk. The idyllic rural lanes around Clonoulty were especially beautiful in the June sunshine. We stopped after a mile or two at the front wall of a house where a chatty retired woman was gardening. Naturally the talk turned to set dancing and we learned the friendly woman was once a regular dancer herself. Before long two ladies on their way to the ceili in a small red car beeped the horn at us and gave us a lift back to the village. We were still an hour early so we continued up the road to the village of Holy Cross where we wandered with the ducks and fisherman along the River Suir and peered at sacred relics of the True Cross in the ancient abbey.
Arriving at the ceili in time for the 3pm start we found Johnny Reidy on stage looking slimmer than ever and crowds of dancers filling the marquee. Johnny and company played the Connemara as the first set and were rewarded with cheers after each figure. In addition to three plain sets, we danced the West Kerry and East Galway, which was called by Pat Murphy. He described the “ducks” movement in the first figure and offered two explanations for the name, the obvious one being that we dance in a single file, like ducklings following their mother. It’s a simple move but great fun to dance because we can pretend to be ducks twice for eight bars each. The warmth of the dancing on a warm afternoon was relieved by untying a knot and opening the sides of the marquee—wouldn’t it be great if you could zip open the walls in a hall? Just before the last set Margaret Slattery took the microphone once again to offer thanks to all for a good weekend, and we were all thankful to her and her team for organising such an enjoyable occasion.
The final ceili on Sunday night is intended as a night for the locals to enjoy themselves, and a few of the visitors stayed on for the fun. The dancing was a mix of familiar sets, ceili dances, two-hands and waltzes, with the lively music of one-man-band Danny Webster. There were plenty of prizes in a big raffle and the surplus brack leftover from the weekend’s ample tea breaks was offered as spot prizes. For some light entertainment Margaret Slattery and Noreen Ryan kitted themselves out in fancy dress claimed to be competitors on the RTÉ TV programme, Celebrity Jigs and Reels. Their interview and the jig they danced posing as novice dancer and teacher was hilarious. Madge O’Grady from Donegal posing as herself also danced a few beautiful sean nós steps.
At the close of the weekend we all parted with a feeling of contentment after another excellent weekend of dancing at the Connie Ryan Gathering in Clonoulty.
The weather was perfect for the 2006 Prince Edward Island Victoria Day set dance weekend—not too cool for moving from car to house or standing on the porch, and not so hot and sunny that anyone was tempted to sneak off to the beach. Mild speckles of rain kept the red dust down. The Scaip na Cleiti1 Dancers from Nova Scotia travelled to PEI to visit the Laban Rua2 dancers there. In other words, “1toss the feathers on the 2red mud.”
On Saturday, the Bluenosers (Nova Scotians) drove over on time for the afternoon slow session at Dave and Cheryl Corrigan’s Rustico home overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence. Two major changes from last year were obvious: one, there was no fog, so we could see the beautiful view, and two, the musicians are a year more experienced, and thus the session not as slow! Not too fast, mind you, but moving along. Again, we were joined by fiddles, tin whistles, mandolins, bodhrans, bones and spoons. Dave even modelled his new uilleann pipes.
Saturday evening’s activity was a ceili at Karl and Barb Thomson’s house in the highest location in PEI, Emyvale. The wooden floor that was new last year has seen much use this year and is even more beautiful. Sets included the Plain, Mazurka and Armagh, finishing up, as usual, with the Ballyvourney at one in the morning.
Sunday there was only one item on the agenda, but we were well-occupied. The twelve-hour party at Fred Horne and Mary Burke’s historic house in Nine Mile Creek began at 2pm in the afternoon. Activities included sessions fast and slow, barbecuing, chatting, meeting new folks, and for the children, running through the house, woods and fields. Victoria Day weekend is traditionally when Canadians begin the camping and gardening season. These activities were not neglected. A party of three camped on the lawn, and the garden tour extended to sharing cuttings.
But what about dancing? No fear: we were greeted at the door with “the list.” Ten dances, old and new, regular and irregular, had been chosen by the fear agus bean a’ tí for completion by the night’s end. All hands were tired by the time the goal was achieved late that night, but we agreed that the list kept us on track. “We’re doing it this way from now on forever,” announced bean a’ tí Mary.
Besides the usual suspects such as the Clare Lancers, Plain and Corofin, the list also included PEI favourites the Monaghan and Valentia Right and Left. “Is there another Valentia?” asked your punctilious author. “Is there a Valentia Up and Down? In and Out?” The press was summarily dismissed, and denied permission to call the set simply “the Valentia” in her voluminous notes. After all that, Monday, a civic holiday, was the day for sleeping in, then returning home, or cleaning up after visitors. Back we went over the 13km Confederation Bridge connecting the island to New Brunswick and on to Nova Scotia, with our sore feet, plant cuttings and pleasant memories.
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Mayo Fleadh Ceili was held on the 13th May in the Westport Woods Hotel, overlooking the picturesque lake and grounds of Westport House. Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band were in brilliant form and played some excellent tunes for the large crowd of dancers. The combination of flute, fiddle and accordion blended well with the percussion and keyboard. They were a joy to listen and dance to.
Nestling beneath the Partry mountains lies the village of Killawalla where the community centre was the venue for the ceili on the 20th May. The Co Westmeath trio, Carousel, were in their usual brilliant form and a night of lively music, great dancing and mighty craic was enjoyed by all.
June 3rd saw us in the community centre at Caherlistrane, which is situated between Tuam and Headford in north Galway. This was the first set dance ceili to be held here for a number of years and a great success it was. Music was provided by the ever popular Heather Breeze Ceili Band. Heather Breeze also played at the very popular Cois Abhann Centre in Hollymount on June 10th. A great crowd gathered and danced well into the night, and we all enjoyed a fabulous spread at the tea interval. Gertie Tighe and her loyal band of helpers must be thanked for all their hard work.
On the 3rd July I headed off to Co Clare for the Willie Clancy festival. Having never been in that area before I took my time and travelled the scenic route across the Burren. Reaching the top of Corkscrew Hill, I spent some time marvelling at the landscape, an artist’s paradise. After a cup of tea, a bite to eat and several more miles, I arrived at the Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, just in time to dance to the Abbey Ceili Band, a great band. I was in excellent company in an absolutely glorious place—what more could one want? I was very fortunate to have friends in Lahinch who put me up. I had a great time for the few days I spent in and around Miltown Malbay. I danced to some great music from bands that I hadn’t seen or heard before. I have booked my accommodation for 2007.
Between Castlebar and Charlestown in Co Mayo, just off of the N5, lies the rural townland of Midfield. Julian’s is a very well-known venue for its fine food and year round music, dancing, and craic. On July 10th the place was buzzing in anticipation as a large crowd had gathered to dance to the music of the Copper Plate Ceili Band from Omagh, Co Tyrone. This was the band’s first visit to this part of Mayo. The trio have a style of music which blends both modern and traditional instruments beautifully together. The lively music had the floor packed for each set. Well done lads.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
The Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast near Queens University is home to a number of assorted dance and music groups, including the Belfast Set Dancing and Traditional Music Society. This club offers lessons in traditional music and dance and holds occasional ceilis and workshops. Their most recent special event was a day of polka sets held on Saturday June 17th featuring workshops with Timmy McCarthy and a ceili with music by the Dingle duo Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders on accordion and guitar. As a member of the cult of the polka set, I will travel anywhere, even to Belfast, to dance the gorgeous West Kerry and the other sets of Cork and Kerry.
The former Victoria College, a substantial listed historic building from 1874, has been the home of the Crescent Arts Centre since 1980. It occupies an excellent location just south of the city centre, but is in need of refurbishment. This should commence before too long as the centre has recently been awarded over £4 million for the work. In the meantime the premises have a rather bohemian charm which enhanced my day of polka dancing. The large room where the dancing took place is painted entirely in black; the inky darkness made us forget about the rest of the world and concentrated our minds on the sets.
In this setting, the brilliance of Timmy McCarthy’s teaching was even more apparent. He doesn’t worry about teaching new sets; his mission is to make us dance in the correct authentic style of the Cork and Kerry dancers he originally obtained his sets from. The revival has introduced some bad habits into some of the sets which he strives to correct. For example, when housing in the Ballyvourney Jig Set, the gent reverses the lady for two bars; too often today these two bars are danced in place when the couple should advance smartly to the next position. In the Sliabh Luachra Set, Timmy tried to retrain us to ignore our fixed home position in the set and instead move freely with the other couples without worrying about getting back to place. Timmy had a sudden inspiration to play a French bourée and taught us to dance it with Gallic passion but without physical contact.
Timmy supplies his own music in the workshops, playing beautiful slides and polkas while calling the dances. In the afternoon he gave us a chance at Hurry the Jug, a challenging figure dance along the lines of the High-Cauled Cap, only danced to slides in the Sliabh Luachra style. It’s one dance I would happily do at least a dozen times, if I could ever be so lucky. At the end of the afternoon, Timmy was given a break from the accordion when a crowd of music students who had been in workshops with Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders came down to play for a couple figures of the Sliabh Luachra. I was expecting slow student polkas, but Pádraig and Jon taught them well and we flew along at the correct speed through the figures. ’Twas mighty.
Punctuality is one of Timmy’s strong traits. The ceili that night was scheduled for nine o’clock, but there was only one set in the hall and no sign of Pádraig or John. So Timmy got the set out for the Sliabh Luachra and played for it himself, and continued with the Ballyvourney Reel after that. When the musicians arrived, they began with their trademark West Kerry Set and played the night’s only reel set, the Connemara. The night ended with another trademark West Kerry Set, version two, the last figure of which was augmented by special backing vocals by Timmy, Pádraig and John in the style of a didgeridoo. Sounds odd I know, but it’s thrilling when you’re there dancing to it!
So for about ten hours of driving from Clare and back I was rewarded with about the same number of hours of Cork and Kerry sets—it was well worth it.
Glasgow was the place to be on the 19th–21st May 2006 as Glasgow’s first set dancing workshop and ceili with Jim ‘Elvis’ Monaghan took place—it was electric! Jim entertained us at the break with his own version of the brush dance with an Elvis theme (he calls the brush Priscilla) and sang the Big Bopper song Chantilly Lace.
The response was overwhelming. There was Tom McKinney who came over from Philadelphia, Lisa-Lotte from Norway, a group over from Ireland, a group from the Newcastle and Durham area and a group from the east coast of Scotland. Last but not least the Glasgow crowd contributed greatly with their delicious home baking and their presence!
The talented McAleer family provided Friday night’s ceili music. Pat and his two sons, Patrick and Ciarán, who call themselves Ceol Na hEireann, played well and got us started. Saturday was the workshop and we learned some reel steps and practised a few dances. Saturday night’s ceili was the turn of the renowned St Roch’s Ceili Band made up of enthusiastic young locals with Frank McArdle at the helm. Jim Monaghan commented that they are as good as any band he has heard in Ireland. Sunday morning was the last workshop and lasted a few hours.
The weekend came to a close on Sunday evening when a few of us descended upon the West End of Glasgow and partook in some celebration at a pub called Uisge Beatha (water of life) where several musicians were having a session. They cleared some space for us and we were allowed to dance a couple of figures of the Cashel Set and Clare Lancers! Derek Gilhooley sang a poignant song about the Highland clearances titled Hush Hush. Frank O’Neill gave us a demonstration of a sean nós dance and Jim Monaghan entertained us again with his impersonation of Elvis doing a brush dance. A magnificent finish to the weekend—it sadly came to a close, but we are all still reeling!
Rita Sweeney, Glasgow, Scotland
On the 24th of June, John Joe Brannigan and myself had a marvellous night of set dancing in Mullaghbuoy Hall away up on the Carlingford hill at the north of Co Louth. We stopped on the way for a photograph which shows one of the Carlingford hills with a small part of Carlingford Lough on the left. The ceili is approximately on the other side of the hill shown.
Dancers from our area, Coalisland, Galbally, Dungannan and Moy, Co Tyrone, not to mention a host of other places, always make an effort to head for the Carlingford hall where Michael and Kathleen McGlynn and company make us very welcome. The floor is nice to dance on and the tea is extra special. On this occasion Cathal McAnulty Ceili Band made us hop to their marvellous music.
The Carlingford peninsula has a lot of beauty spots, with Dundalk Bay on one side and Carlingford Lough on the other. It is a favourite place for visitors to enjoy, not only for a ‘Sunday run’, but also for any time throughout the year. A lovely new hotel opened recently in Carlingford and is very popular with the tourists.
So whenever you can, always fit in a tour of the Carlingford peninsula or sail on Carlingford Lough. Also keep an eye on the Set Dancing News and fit in your trip with the dancing in Mullaghbuoy Hall.
Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone
The number one question I’m asked every year in the month of June is, “Are you ready for Miltown?” Indeed, I’m always ready for Miltown—bring it on in any month of the year and I’ll be there! Fortunately it occupies the first week of July which makes it easy to plan and prepare myself for ten days of dancing, morning, noon and night. The anticipation seems to start at the beginning of year and by June the excitement is immense. Is it really as good as all that? It certainly is, with all of the set dancing world’s keenest dancers and most popular bands in one small town by the sea at the height of summer. Without a doubt it’s the best dancing of the year.
I hope my day by day report will give you a flavour of this year’s Willie Clancy Summer School and the Armada Hotel Set Dancing Week.
Friday 30 JuneMy dancing actually began last night in Vaughan’s Barn, Kilfenora, where the Four Courts are the resident band, and it was a further pleasure to dance to them tonight at the Armada Hotel’s first ceili. There were a handful of visitors in Vaughan’s who could barely contain their excitement at what lies ahead, while this evening everyone was relaxed and pleased that the week has actually started. It was a night for reel lovers with three plain sets, the Caledonian, Connemara, Labasheeda, Lancers, and so on, with the Cashel and Ballyvourney for relief. The band’s fiddler Joe Rynne did suggest the West Kerry Set but there weren’t many positive responses to that. He also offered a vote on the Caledonian hornpipe—long or short? A show of hands declared the long hornpipe to be the winner.
Two of my partners made disparaging remarks about one fellow who did quite a lot of pounding, which was particularly noticeable as it was one of the quietest nights of the week. One lady was trying to enlist men brave enough to ask him to dance more quietly (that left me out) and the other thought she might try to take his shoes away!
Saturday 1 JulyI had more Four Courts at the Armada’s afternoon ceili—three in a row. They had a couple of different musicians today and played some different sets, including my favourite reel set of the moment, the South Galway. There was another democratic Caledonian Set and the long hornpipe was again the winner. While the floor wasn’t crowded, colliding sets and dancers was one of the topics of conversation after the ceili when I had a meal with some New Yorkers outdoors at the Armada in glorious warm evening sunshine. One of them suggested painting lines on the floor to mark the sets, and another even proposed laser lights as a high tech solution, but the rest of us agreed no one would pay attention to them. I volunteered an Irish solution to the problem—an electric cattle fence would definitely be effective at separating sets, as I know well from my limited experience of the fields of Co Clare. One of the New Yorkers on his first trip to Ireland asked a partner why she came to Miltown and taken aback by her answer—“I come for the craic,” she said, which means something else entirely to a street-wise boy from the Big Apple.
There was an extra unadvertised bonus at the ceili tonight as a second band had been added to the night’s line-up in the last few days. I started off with the Abbey Ceili Band where the music, dancers and atmosphere were charged with infectious electricity. It was hard to leave, but I couldn’t resist the chance to hear the Copperplate Ceili Band from Co Tyrone, who were playing in the adjacent carvery restaurant. Not many knew about it even though it was announced at the earlier ceilis and there were just a couple of sets dancing when I came in. The space was a blessing and the music was beautifully lively and animated the dancers with enormous pleasure. As each set was danced there were more dancers on the floor and some even danced on the carpet. Folks would come in when a set in the main hall finished and would leave after sampling the Copperplate so there was a constant change of personnel. Toward the end of the night I drifted back to the main hall where the energy was mighty. When the Abbey were finishing up the Caledonian I was amazed to see another vote for the long hornpipe! There was a Lancers Set and the last set was a surprise—the Claddagh. Even without calling the floor was filled and all went well, though the cross chain in the third figure confounded a good number of dancers. A final rake of reels gave everyone a chance to dance whatever they wanted.
Sunday 2 JulyWhen the doors to the Armada opened twenty minutes before the start of afternoon ceili there were already at least fifty people queuing to get in. Before the first set was called and even before the band sat down on stage, dancers had already formed the sets and packed the floor. There was a simple explanation for this extraordinary eagerness to dance—Johnny Reidy’s ceili band was here. The band worked their magic from the first Connemara Set and roars of approval filled the ballroom after each figure. “This doesn’t happen for anyone else,” my partner said. And it’s not only Johnny; I marvelled at the lightness and beauty of Marianne Browne’s powerful flute which stood out loud and clear above the din of the dancers. Every set the band played showed the same magic and the cheering kept coming. It’s a good thing the Armada is a sturdy building, otherwise a few windows might have gone missing from the roar that materialised as soon as Johnny played just one bar of the Tamlin Reel for the last figure of the last set, the Lancers. Later, a dancer basking in the afterglow of the ceili told me that if he was going to die dancing, he hoped it would happen to the music of Johnny Reidy. Fortunately there’s little chance of that happening with all the vigorous exercise, the pure sea breezes wafting through the Armada’s windows, the lovely partners we’re privileged to dance with and the stunning music. What could be healthier?
The comfortable lounge of the Quilty Tavern was my port of call for the ceili that night, and I continued to benefit from aromatic sea breezes there while dancing to Taylor’s Cross. The band was 75% new; the only regular player was Donie Nolan himself on box. Filling in the other three seats were Connie O’Connell on fiddle, Edel Fox on concertina and Michael Willis on piano. The combination of fine musicians was a joy to dance to and my exertions seemed to have no bounds.
“Will we ever get sense?” one of my partners asked after madly doubling around the house with me numerous times.
“We’re like children when we’re dancing,” I said.
“That’s the way to heaven,” the gent beside me said.
“What’s the way to heaven?” I wondered.
“To be like a child.”
Monday 3 JulySummer school classes started this morning and I dutifully headed to the former chapel at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point where Timmy McCarthy was holding special devotions for his beloved Cork and Kerry sets. He taught the authentic way to dance the Sliabh Luachra and Jenny Ling sets. He slapped his accordion with delight after a long figure of the Jenny Ling (328 bars) because he successfully played a new tune. At the Armada’s afternoon ceili we danced again to the Abbey Ceili Band who have long been favourites of the dancers here. A veteran Kerry dancer gave me his endorsement of the music, saying that the Abbey are “as good for the last set as the first.” A special visitor arrived near the end of the ceili, John O’Donoghue, Irish government minister for the arts, sport and tourism. He was on a day’s visit to Miltown to see for himself the activities of the Willie Clancy Summer School and the Armada’s set dancing week. He showed up during the last figure of the final Caledonian Set and didn’t stay long enough to hear the national anthem. Afterward he had dinner in the hotel.
At my own dinner that evening in the Chinese restaurant on the main street in Miltown I met Timmy and Rhona McCarthy. After ordering, Timmy came over to my table to say that he attended his first set dancing workshop in the room where we were having our meals. It was during the summer school over twenty years ago and Joe O’Donovan wanted to teach step dancing. Timmy had already been bitten by the set dancing bug and instead asked Joe to teach a set. He taught the North Kerry Set. The old Central Hall, as it was known then, was used for summer school dance classes up until about ten years ago when it became too dilapidated. It has since been refurbished into a pub at street level and the restaurant above.
Fear an tí Dermot Halpin addressed a heartfelt welcome to Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh after the first set in the Armada that night. Micheál’s father was the mainstay of the dancing here for many years and old Michael would be proud of his son’s fantastic music. Pat Walsh dedicated the Caledonian Set to Micheál’s mother Betty, who attended the ceili with her sister Mairéad. From the big smile on her face I could see that she was enjoying the dancing as much as I was. Pat Walsh was very efficient at filling the sets too. Rather than losing many valuable dancing minutes by urging the last partner to come out for the last lady with her hand up, the two just started playing the set. Miraculously by the time the second figure began all gaps were filled. They also wasted no time between figures—there was barely time for the blink of an eye before we were off again. We danced six sets before the break and a total of ten sets for the night. And despite the extra sets, I noticed I didn’t get tired dancing this afternoon; the end seemed to come before I knew it. There was plenty of cheering too, but the biggest roar from the crowd occurred when the jig figure of the Plain Set ended just before the ladies were due to return to their own gents. The tune they were playing at the time, as I was informed by a New York musician, was The Atholl Highlanders. In contrast to the high-energy music of the sets, Micheál and Pat’s national anthem was quiet and gentle, and I could hear everyone singing along.
Tuesday 4 JulySlipped into class late this morning while they were dancing the Televara Set and its third figure, called frog in the middle. Timmy discovered a dead mouse on the floor by the wall where there was a row of desks each with computer, keyboard and mouse. The rest of the year the lovely light room with two walls of windows serves as a computer classroom with all the blinds drawn. There’s a handy kitchen where we can make our own tea. There’s a communal fund for tea, milk and biscuits into which the dancers drop a euro a day.
On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in the Mill Marquee the summer school held a couple of experimental ceilis featuring two-hand dance workshops with Marie Garrity from Co Tyrone and music by the Brian Ború Ceili Band from Dublin. The band began with a set and then Marie taught the Circle Waltz. She demonstrated it, had everyone practice and then the band play a selection of waltzes for all to dance. At least eighty people came along eager to learn the dances. Meanwhile the Emerald Ceili Band were dispensing their own brand of magic to at least as many dancers in the Armada. When I met the Copperplate Ceili Band earlier in the week they pointed out how friendly they found all the other ceili bands they met. Rather than being rivals, they all behave like comrades. And very true it is because I spotted numerous ceili band musicians attending the ceilis in all the venues for a listen and a dance.
The Mill Marquee came alive on Tuesday night at the first of the two annual ceilis with the Tulla Ceili Band. The band has a special appeal with the normal line-up of musicians, and when Martin Hayes joins them on fiddle they’re irresistible—a dancer’s delight. The marquee, a new feature of this year’s summer school ceilis, handled the big crowd with room to spare. The venue was set up in the car park of the local GAA club so there was plenty of parking and it was close enough to town so that those without cars could get here under their own steam. Inside a double floor was laid, an underfloor covered with carpet and on top of that the familiar temporary dance surface of square parquet panels. Because the site wasn’t quite level, the floor had a pronounced slope which was only obvious when you were dancing on it. The main effect of this was to shift all the sets diagonally down the floor; between figures we all shifted back up. When I was dancing at the low end it was unnerving to see a forest of dancers descending down the hill toward me. “We’re going to slide all the way to Johnny Reidy’s!” one lady said, referring to the ceili down the road in the Armada. Someone related the remark of an English visitor who said, “In Ireland you call this a floor. In England we’d call it a roof.”
Nevertheless it was a night of beautiful music and dancing. The Tulla began with the South Galway so I achieved full contentment with the first set. It seemed like I’d already danced the other sets of the night dozens times during the past few days but I saw new beauty in them tonight. I marvelled at the third figure of the Plain Set and the elegant and efficient way the opposite lady arrived in my arms. Among the dancers enjoying themselves were five from Zagreb, Croatia, under the guidance of Dubliner Paul O’Grady see page 45 who teaches classes there. I spoke to another lady who told me that she’d never miss the dancing this week but she’s not able to take her holiday at this time. Instead, she takes a week off sick!
Wednesday 5 JulyThere was a small bit of rain yesterday, but otherwise the weather had been the best seen in Miltown for several years. In the exceptionally clear air this morning I spotted Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula on the horizon during a break in the dance class. We’re not so very far from West Kerry, I thought, and pointed it out to Timmy. He shouted a hello to Brendan Begley, who might have heard it as he was probably in Miltown at the time. This morning four sets came to the class, an extra set since yesterday; some of the dancers were sampling the different classes. Timmy was generous about sharing his points of view on dancing and today he said, “Men dance in a masculine way. Women dance in a feminine way. It’s not sexist. It’s not overtly sexual. It’s just the way it is.” Halfway through the class two Kerry musicians, Andy O’Sullivan on harmonica and Dave O’Sullivan-Baker on box, relieved Timmy of the playing and made the dancing even more enjoyable.
Heather Breeze from Co Mayo played for the first time in the Armada on Wednesday afternoon. The gorgeous day may have tempted many to the adjacent beach but those of us at the ceili generated our own sunshine. The band’s music has a familiar, comfortable feel to it that fits the sets to perfection. It was probably the most traditional music of the week in the Armada and the band was a welcome addition to the programme of ceilis. You’d never exhaust yourself dancing flat out to this music, so I was left in good shape for the night’s dancing. After the ceili someone paid me a lovely compliment—“I like the way you keep all your women happy,” he said.
That evening I embarked on a three-ceili tour beginning in the Armada where Matt Cunningham was playing. Matt’s ceilis are always a pleasure as much for his cheerful disposition as for the brilliant music that is always a treat. I then headed over to the village of Mullagh and John Fennell’s Hell for Leather fund raising ceili. The show featuring dancing by approximately 200 kids had a performance on July 20th in Dublin and the money raised from a series of ceilis this week helped with expenses. When I arrived at the village hall, kids were milling around outside on the street and I wondered if I had missed the ceili. On entering I saw two sets dancing the Ballyvourney Jig; the kids had left because that’s one set they don’t know. When the Lancers was called next, the floor filled with about seven sets—the same two sets of adults and five of kids. They knew their Lancers very well and danced with tremendous energy, helped by the music of that dynamic duo, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. After a break when the kids went back outside, there was an astounding demonstration of the fifth figure of the Caledonian by a set of teenagers and a brush dance by young Tara Lernihan, the seven-year-old who had the poise and steps of a veteran dancer. I departed for the Mill Marquee and arrived after midnight for the last three sets with the Kilfenora Ceili Band. Their rousing music for the Caledonian, Kilfenora and Plain made a fine finish to the night. For a special bonus, they also played a selection of jigs for a solo dance by Tommy Browne, a veteran dancer from Cooraclare a few miles south of Miltown.
Thursday 6 JulyIn this morning’s class we danced the Ballyvourney Reel, Set of Erin and a figure of the West Kerry. “There’s beauty in it,” Timmy said. The musicians Andy and Dave were back. They’re in a group called Amergin from Kenmare and could have sold a few CDs in our class if only they’d brought some with them.
The good summer weather was just a distant memory today as rain and winds gave us a taste of the traditional summer school weather of recent years. The Armada’s afternoon ceili featured more music by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. Every window in the hall is open during the ceilis and sometimes oxygen is still in short supply, so all the doors are opened wide as well, each guarded by a member of staff who controls access in and out by dated tickets. Today when the double doors were opened the storm force winds outside brought plenty of refreshing oxygen indoors and evaporated all perspiration instantly. Dermot Halpin again addressed us all with an emotional tribute to the music of Micheál and Pat. “I’m in f—cking tears,” he said, clearly moved by the music and by thoughts of his old friend Michael. The ceili finished up with a Claddagh Set which went well, even in the third figure, and a Plain Set which was a tour de force of accordion playing. Micheál played a few measures past the end of the dance to finish the tune and then continued with another tune for the enraptured and cheering dancers.
On the street in Miltown that evening I heard polkas playing on an accordion and I wondered what venerable Sliabh Luachra musician could be responsible. I was surprised to see a young lad of an age still in single digits. There was a new shop on the street and it was filled to capacity—an internet café! At eight o’clock I wandered over to the Community Hall to have a casual look at the dance recital and enjoyed it so much that I found it hard to leave early for the ceili with the Tulla Ceili Band. Members of all the dance classes performed and there were excellent solo dances by teachers and a couple of the students.
I don’t like to miss a minute of the Tulla, so I was in the Mill Marquee on time for the start of the ceili. I was rewarded with another South Galway Set and a succession of beautiful dances after that. Several times in the night I mixed up first and second tops. I attributed this to the sloping floor because it seemed odd for first tops to be downhill from second tops. Surprisingly, the highlight of the night was totally without any dancing at all. Martin Hayes played a magnificent fiddle solo with dancers crowded around the stage completely enthralled. He played two reels and a further encore. After another set the ceili finished with a rake of reels for some displays of solo dancing by Tommy Browne and his son Ciarán, Paddy Neylon and others.
Friday 7 JulyThis morning I visited several of the dance classes, calling first at the Brooks Academy class in the Community Hall where the Dunmanway Set from Cork was underway. I was impressed by the ratio of teachers to students which allowed each set to have one or two teachers attending to them plus one teacher calling on microphone. At the sean nós dancing class in the Mill Marquee, Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey shared responsibility for close to 100 students, all eagerly practicing their steps non-stop. Mick invited some of the students to dance on their own. They danced to a recording by Mary MacNamara, who was in the marquee at the time, though unfortunately without her concertina. Céline and Michael Tubridy’s class, and the other two step dancing classes were held in the GAA changing rooms adjacent to the marquee. The students were practicing the Easy Jig when I called by. Down at the Armada Hotel, Paddy Neylon was teaching six sets of complete beginners the moves of the first figure of the Plain Set—it’s easy when you know how but daunting for new dancers.
Mary Clancy’s class occupied the Armada’s main hall. The first thing she did when I arrived was to pose everyone for a group photo. On display at the stage were two handy posters with reminders of the moves of the Newport Set. Earlier in the week I spoke to a dancer who praised Mary and her advice for beginning dancers. With good humour, she told her students to stand into a set at a ceili, raise your hand for a partner and don’t back out—someone will come. She said not to tell your partner that you’re a bad dancer—they’ll find out—and if you’re a good dancer that will be a bonus for them. Finally I went on to St Joseph’s Secondary School to check out Aidan Vaughan’s and Betty McCoy’s Clare battering class and was back to Timmy’s class in time to dance Hurry the Jug—bliss!
We were seeing moments of sunshine and moments of rain today, otherwise it was windy and cloudy. The Abbey Ceili Band were the band of the afternoon ceili in the Armada, and despite a missing banjo supplied music that was as full, lively and enjoyable as was heard at any of the ceilis this week. At one point early in the ceili I thought the music was especially good and look up to the stage to see Andy O’Connell fiddling on his own with John Coakley on piano. Box player Ger Murphy was on the floor checking speakers. The amazing thing is that Andy is such a strong fiddler that he’s the equal of any box player and could have carried the ceili on his own! The band responded to requests for a few different sets, including the Sliabh Luachra, the Borlin Polka and the Claddagh, which was danced at half the ceilis of the week. The floor was crowded up to the final rake of reels, which ended in a big cheer.
Johnny Reidy’s ceili that night in the Armada was surely going to be one of the biggest ceilis of the week. I went early to dance a couple of sets before it became too crowded for comfort. Right enough, when the third set was called, not only was the floor full of dancers, but all the standing room was filled and more folks were on their way in. I escaped to the Quilty Tavern for what was personally my best ceili of the week. I came in during the Corofin Plain Set and when I arranged a partner for the following set I couldn’t believe my luck that it was the West Kerry Set. The music by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh was perfectly suited to the set, and out of curiosity I asked Micheál afterward who had requested the West Kerry. It was his own request! His loose-leaf notebook full of arrangements for sets included the West Kerry but it hadn’t been requested all week, so tonight was his turn. We agreed that very few other bands would be so eager to play the set. After that I felt free to ask for any set and so requested the Clare Orange and Green which we danced after the break. The other relative rarity was the Clare Mazurka Set which someone else had requested. For that one I was partnered by a lady as mad to double as I am and we took full advantage. The Mazurka offers several opportunities to dance around the house twice in succession, so we slipped in some doubling then. I believe it’s the only set where you can dance around the house three times (in the final figure) and I’ve always wanted to double those and did that tonight for the first time. Ah, satisfaction knows no bounds.
Saturday 8 JulyHurry the Jug was the set of the day in Timmy’s class and we danced it several times through. The class performance in the dance recital on Thursday went so well (Timmy brought the house down, I heard) that he and the team were asked to do it again at the grand concert tonight. Timmy took this as a great honour. The class also gratefully honoured Timmy with a bottle of Jameson and his wife Rhona with a bottle of wine, paid from the tea fund collected daily. The class was due to finish by midday but it was 12.15pm when we parted and headed down to the Community Hall for the annual dance class ceili, where all the classes meet to dance for an hour to exquisite live music by Brendan Begley. The Plain Set was underway when I arrived, and then the Sliabh Luachra was next. The atmosphere was gorgeous, light and bright; I could sense it as soon as I entered the room. The music and sound were superb and the floor was ideal for set dancing, responsive and level. It’s a pity that this hour is the week’s only ceili here.
The Glenside Ceili Band made their first and only appearance at the afternoon ceili in the Armada and were a popular choice judging by the huge numbers attending. I certainly wasn’t as fresh as I was a week earlier but many had only arrived for the weekend and were bursting with excess enthusiasm and energy. It was rather quieter at the ceili in the Quilty Tavern where I arrived for the second half of the session with the Four Courts. After a nice meal in the adjoining restaurant, I stayed on for farewell ceili number one with Tim Joe and Anne O’Riordan. After a week of superlative music, this couple hold their own with the best of the ceili bands. Tim Joe’s inventive playing changes with the movements and responses of the dancers, and at the same time he is able to call the sets. Tonight we danced the Mazurka again and while he might not have known it all that well, Tim Joe was able to call it with the help of signals from dancers in the set in front of him. Later on at farewell ceili number two in the Mill Marquee, the Kilfenora Ceili Band, brought the Willie Clancy Summer School and my fantastic week of dancing to a close.
With all the great music and sets, it’s the partners, the people who come from near and far to a tiny town on the west coast of Ireland, who make this the great week it is. County, country or continent—it makes no difference where you come from, as long as you’re out on the floor dancing a set with the rest of us you’re fully accepted and part of the community. Two years ago I watched a fun-loving Westmeath grandmother partner a lanky Japanese lad for the first time, and I was delighted to see them dancing regularly together. At one of the ceilis this week I said to him, “She likes doubling,” and then didn’t I see them spinning around the house every time after that! You can meet anyone at a ceili in Miltown and become friends for life. Long may it continue!
When is a workshop not a workshop? When it’s run by Maureen Culleton—and such fun, that a week’s workshop just makes one long for more! Know the feeling?
Let me explain. Having been to weekend set dancing workshops in lovely Clonea and Rathgormack a few years ago and loved them, I decide to have a go at two-hand dances—less taxing on legs that are not getting younger.
An ad in your Set Dancing News for a two-hand dance workshop with Maureen Culleton in the ICA Hall, Castletown, Co Laois, on the 19th of March got me going. What an experience and what fun!
That was it! I was hooked on two-hand dances and Maureen Culleton. Never mind that by the time Maureen got to Pat-a-Cake half-way down her list, I had forgotten the Peeler and the Goat, the Eva Three-step, the Flirtation Two-step and the Dinkie Two-step.
Music on the day was by Colin McGill a wonderful piano accordion player and an All-Ireland champion. His upbeat, enthusiastic playing of the special tunes associated with each dance matched Maureen’s enthusiastic teaching. Some combination I can tell you, and in demonstrating the dances before teaching them, Maureen was ably assisted by Maidie, Alice and John.
Maureen’s motto is “Dancing is for life, so keep dancing and stay alive.” I’ve made it my motto too, so when I saw another two-hand dance workshop arranged for April 8th in Celbridge run by Maureen I phoned a friend, booked our places and off we went.
Maureen has a way of welcoming everybody as if we’re doing her a favour by coming instead of the other way round. This workshop was attended by an even bigger crowd than Castletown—and lots of men! I was sure I’d never remember the dances from last day, but I did—barely. There were many new ones though—Kelvingrove Two-step, Call of the Pipes, White Heather Foxtrot and many more. After a welcome break for tea and sinfully delicious cakes we were back dancing again. It was a super day and by now we all wanted to know when the next Maureen Culleton two-hand dance workshop was, such is the sheer magnetism and professionalism of the lady.
We had to wait till July 3rd for our next workshop with Maureen. This was a week-long summer school covering set, ceili and two-hand dances in classes from 9.30am to 2.30pm, Monday to Friday. Incidentally this workshop was approved by the Department of Education so there were many teachers there.
Although Maureen admitted to being nervous about teaching teachers, she was her usual self and had everyone captivated by her sheer sense of fun, while making sure we all went left and right and in and out as required! Each morning began with the cupán tae and biscuits. Then, dancing till lunch time, with a different menu each day served by local ladies—desserts too!
We did some new two-hand dances and figures of the Inis Meáin Set before lunch. After lunch Maureen introduced ceili dances, always making sure they were well within the capacity of the pupils, as well as the teachers and the rest of us! Some had video recorders so Maureen talked us through the dances and in case of total lapses of memory she also took the names of those who wished to have written copies of the dances, step by step.
What did we do between 2.30pm and bedtime? Maureen organised evening entertainment. Can you believe it? Monday night we had a music and song and dance session in the local pub, the Deadman’s Inn, Ballyfin, with Colin on piano accordion, his sister Linda on concertina, Eddie from Shinrone on guitar with his wealth of songs unusual, usual, happy and sad. Noreen also played the concertina, James on button accordion and the nimble fingered Patch Doyle on fiddle. There were boys from Ballyfin who sang in harmony—all in all, a wonderful night. Everyone sang and most people danced. It was hard to go home!
Having danced our way through Fiona’s Polka, Mississippi Dip, Long German, Irish Highland and another figure of the Inis Meáin Set on Tuesday we set off for Glen Barrow with guide Michael Dowling. This proved to be a great experience. Under Michael’s watchful eye we trod well-worn paths almost up to the source of the Barrow, encountering waterfalls, unusual rock formations, cat holes and flora and fauna some of us never noticed before. Michael was an entertaining, knowledgeable guide with a wealth of information, which reminded me of Goldsmith’s village schoolmaster. How one small head could carry all he knew!
After Wednesday morning’s workshop where we “sailed” through most of the two-hand dances, Maureen had a surprise for us—a musician called Eugene Nolan who demonstrated and explained the origins of instruments going back to B-flat fife, concert flute, F flute and piccolo. It was riveting, and just long enough. We went back then to learn the last figure of the Inis Meáin Set.
On Wednesday evening, a few of us accompanied Maureen to her active retirement class in nearby Mountmellick, after which a friend and myself treated ourselves to a cuppa outside a café in glorious sunshine. Who should pass by and greet us but a “girl” I’d been in school with in the Presentation College across the street—sixty years before! She was wearing a cross and chain and I chanced to ask her if she was a sister. No, we did not recognise each other—we weren’t in Tir na nÓg, unfortunately! However, we persuaded her to join us for a cup of tea for a few minutes and reminisced, till the Angelus bell reminded sister she had come out of the convent to get milk and hadn’t yet bought it.
On Thursday, just when we though we knew it all, Maureen introduced a new dimension—sean nós dancing. Linda McGill, a friend and ex-pupil of Maureen’s demonstrated the intricacies and simplicity of sean nós dancing in a lovely routine perfected by the two of them. The rapport between them was great and both danced with such ease; they made it all look so simple.
Thursday also saw the whole set put together for the first time. We felt great! A re-cap of all the two-hand dances done to date followed and then another demonstration. This time it was the turn of Marie Dunne, Louise Conroy and Maidie McGill (Colin and Linda’s mother) who made our eyes pop out with their light-footedness in the Priest and his Boots. Maureen, of course, danced with them and Maidie then danced a hornpipe. Is it the air around Ballyfin or what? On Thursday night we all went again to enjoy the music, craic, singing and dancing in the Deadman’s Inn. There was very little time for drinking!
Friday, Scatterin’ Day like Puck Fair, saw us all on a high, and low at the same time. We were so thrilled to be able to do all the dances and chat a little and even sing along at the same time and still the fun was coming to a close.
Totally professional to the very end Maureen gave us lots of information regarding tapes, CDs and dance books, and the type of music required for each dance, polkas, jigs, etc. She even demonstrated how to get around what could be an embarrassing problem for teachers by getting children to hold hands instead of waltz hold. I thought that was particularly far-seeing of her.
Two-thirty on Friday July 7th came all too soon. We exchanged phone numbers, said our goodbyes and all to a man (or woman!) vowed to return—a fitting tribute to a wonderful lady who says, Maireann croí agus cosa eatroma I bhfad.
Roll on the World Fleadh in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, where Maureen is again in action with ceili and two-hand dances.
Go mbeirimíd beo!
Colette O'Dwyer, Kells, Co Kilkenny
PS, I love reading Set Dancing News and recognising faces at the various venues. Keep up the good work.
What crime? you might ask! Well, it wasn’t actually a crime at all, but the enjoyment of my very first set dancing class one year ago at the South Sligo Summer School in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. Now I am back once again in the lovely town as the school celebrates its twentieth year and I can feel the excitement within myself, and the hum in the town is quite evident.
The official opening on Sunday evening, July 9th, in Murphy’s Hotel (a renovated pub, restaurant and B & B) has a bit of competition from the World Cup final, but the proceedings still attract a standing room only crowd. Then the week begins, for set dancers at least, with a ceili in St Brigid’s Hall. Dancing to the music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh is great fun and it is marvellous seeing so many faces again. I enjoy the emotion as I watch people greet one another with such warmth and in between sets try to catch up on the year’s news. Many say they have just spent the week in Miltown Malbay but are definitely no worse for the wear as they begin this new week of tuition by Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy.
Monday morning’s tuition begins with Pat showing us a few simple steps to prepare us to dance the Monaghan Set. Next they demonstrate some figures of the Lusmagh Set from Co Offaly with six volunteers; however, due to time constraints we are not able to finish. Persons who volunteer or are “volunteered” to demonstrate the different sets during the week randomly change. In one demonstration set we had four different countries represented along with four different counties in Ireland. During this week I am seeing the popularity of set dancing from all over the world. We have people from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Arctic Circle region of Norway, Sweden and the USA, to name a few.
Promptly at 8.30pm a ceili begins with music by the well known Emerald Ceili Band. By 9pm the floor is packed and the sound of the music mixed with laughter is exhilarating and we dance until 11.30pm. One might think at this point that it would be time to go to bed and rest for the following morning—but definitely not this lady! As I am walking through the town to my car there is music (the universal language) flowing out from the door of every pub, so I have to check it out. In the course of the week, after each ceili I try a different establishment. This year is different from last in that it seems there are so many more musicians—of all ages! Seana Haughey, one of the organizers of the week, informs me that there are over 1,000 musicians and dancers in the town and this year has brought out more of the youth. I am amazed that in a back room of one of the pubs (in a section where no liquor was served) there were young children playing fiddles, bodhrans, flutes, tin whistles and accordions. It gives me great hope for the future of music in Ireland and therefore for the rest of the world. As I move about there are people reciting poetry, doing sean nós dancing, singing, playing music and set dancing! I am in the center of the universe for bards and storytellers, dancers, musicians and poets! It is wonderful and I am grateful to be here. Alas, morning comes early so, as I have to remember each evening, I pull myself away to catch some sleep and rejuvenate myself for the following day.
Tuesday morning we finish the Lusmagh Set and Pat and Betty introduce us to the West Kerry Set which hails from the Dingle Peninsula. With a little time to spare we dance the Peeler and the Goat and the Back-to-Back Hornpipe. Our ceili for this evening is graced by the music of Heather Breeze. I must admit that I very much enjoy watching them play as it seems quite effortless and yet the music is rich and full and not only fills the hall but also my heart. This evening I see two Sisters of the Marist Convent in Tubbercurry, Sister Fancher and Sister Caitriona, who are clearly enjoying watching the dancers and listening to the music. I can’t help but wonder what memories from their childhood are coming to the fore this evening (from their faces, I’m sure they are good memories). I know the convent plays an active role in this week’s festivities and feel gratified that two of them are there to reap the reward of some of their work. I also am drawn to a young girl who is watching every step, rather studying it, so I ask her name. She is 7-year-old Rebecca Gannon from Curry (just up the way) and she is there with her aunt and uncle, Marita and John Henry. When I ask Rebecca if she is a set dancer she answers that she is learning step dancing and that when she is older she would like to learn to set dance.
Wednesday morning we enjoy tuition on the Clare Orange and Green Set. Now sometimes women are accused of being contrary—well, in this set we are all contrary! I must say I enjoy learning this set although I do get a bit confused between when I should move clockwise and when I should move anticlockwise and sometimes I must admit—I am contrary! This fun set is followed by the Waltz of the Bells.
Our ceili music for the evening is provided by The Four Courts and they definitely are a favorite of mine! I hear them, though not often enough, on Sunday and Thursday evenings at Vaughan’s Barn in Kilfenora. This evening we have approximately 22 sets! Each night there have been no less than twenty. At one point in the evening Aidan Vaughan leaves his drums to show us some of his wonderful footwork on the floor. He has such a gentle unassuming quality about his dance and is very enjoyable to watch. His feet sound wonderful to the ears, but all too soon he is back on the stage. We are up for the next set and continue on ’til 11.30pm when it’s time to enjoy the walk back to the car with its little tributaries of poetry, song and dance.
Thursday’s class begins with Pat showing us the footwork before he teaches us the East Galway Reel Set. Struggling with the terms dance the ‘body’ and dance the ‘long house’ I begin to manage this set, which actually at the end is quite lovely. We also start work on the Connemara Jig Set which we will finish tomorrow morning and spend a few moments learning the St Bernard Waltz. At this point I would have to say that I am impressed with Pat’s ability to read his students. There is always such a large number of fairly new dancers, as well as seasoned veterans, and he seems to know how to keep each group happy and stimulated at the same time!
Before much time passes I find myself again at the door of St Brigid’s Hall to hear music by Swallows Tail Ceili Band, who are wonderful musical geniuses and certainly at the top of their game. This evening I count approximately 25 sets on the floor! A great help, for me at least, is that the sets we learn during the week are usually played at the ceilis. In our Friday class we finish work on the Connemara Jig Set and then Pat and Betty teach the Tory Island Lancers Set, a set collected on Donegal’s Tory Island by Connie Ryan.
The music for the evening ceili is by the well-known Brian Ború Ceili Band. We have over 25 sets on the floor so sometimes it is a little difficult to have enough room to move and I notice the sets are much closer together. Music and laughter however will not be restricted and the ceili comes to a close with the beautiful national anthem of Ireland.
At Saturday’s tuition we learn the South Sligo Lancers and the Loughgraney Set. At this point we give a warm round of applause to Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy who worked tirelessly with us throughout the week.
We have a special afternoon ceili with music by the Glenside Ceili Band and the evening’s ceili music is played by the Davey Ceili Band. It is difficult to see the week come to an end. Tubbercurry is such a warm and hospitable town and the music, dance and the craic were top notch. Planning next year’s calendar? You might just pencil in South Sligo Summer School at Tubbercurry which will take place from July 15 to 21, 2007! I know I’ll be back again and again.
As this magazine goes to press I hear news that St Brigid’s Hall (built in 1942) will receive a face-lift and that the first part of a grant has been given in the amount of €200,000 euros to the hall’s committee. I speak with Sean Walsh, chairman of the committee, who informs me that the upgrading includes plans to repair the roof, replace all the windows, put in new toilets and showers and install a ventilation system to keep the hall cooler. They will eventually make significant changes in the entrance to make it more modern and welcoming. I am very happy to hear, however, that very few changes will be made to the internal appearance of the hall. The wall murals painted by a local man, John McCormack, who mixed his own colors, will stay. The committee is researching the best way to repair and preserve the paintings. The beautiful timber floor needs no work. When I ask Sean where he expected to get the rest of the money not covered by the grant he says they are going to try to raise it privately. Anyone looking for a worthy place to put some euros? This might be it.
Gemma Burke Bourré, Belcarra, Co Mayo
I was on a trip to Australia in April and May and during that time I went to the National Folk Festival in Canberra. On Easter Saturday night there was a ceili which I attended. The ceili is run by Margaret and Bill Winnett. They have been to the Willie Clancy week eleven times in all. They run a dancing club in Sydney.
I took some pictures a few of which I enclose; perhaps they would qualify for the Set Dancing News if space allows. That’s me in the green with Margaret and Bill, and the Canberra Ceili Band. I myself am a member of the Castlebridge Set Dancers and Mary Walsh’s class. You took some pictures at our Tuesday night class last year.
I must say I look forward to the Set Dancing News with all the information on forthcoming ceilis and the pictures of events that have already happened. Keep up the good work.
Mary Hartigan, Drinagh, Wexford
People closer to my ageHello Bill,
Thanks for your very helpful website. I’m from California, traveling abroad this summer and perhaps into the fall. Could you help me with a question? As you may know, set dancers in California are mostly in their fifties and sixties. While I enjoy dancing with people of all ages, I’m wondering if there are ceili or set dance venues in Ireland that also attract people closer to my age, twenties and thirties. I’ll probably be visiting Dublin and perhaps other parts of Ireland soon. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
Alexander Lerman, firstname.lastname@example.org
I replied to Alexander with a few suggestions, but any others are most welcome.
Generosity speaks for itselfHi Bill,
A ceili was held in the Parochial Hall, Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, on Tuesday, June 27th, the proceeds of which went to the fund for the O’Regan children who were left orphaned by a horrific fire in Waterford recently. The fire claimed the lives of their parents, Joanne and Brian, and their eighteen-month-old sister Niamh, leaving three children aged ten, seven and five.
Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh travelled down to Mooncoin to give their services free, for which we will be forever grateful. They had just returned from Manchester, came down to see us and caught a flight back to London. This surely speaks for itself. Their generosity and that of others will remain with us.
Mary Murphy, Kilmacow, Waterford
From far and wideBill,
Through the pages of Set Dancing News, the Connie Ryan Gathering Committee would like to thank everyone that made the recent set dance weekend [8-10 June] so successful. We thank the various individuals and organisations who worked with us and who sponsored various items for us. To all the fear an tí and the great ceili bands who provided splendid music and made the ceilithe so enjoyable—well done. In particular we thank all the set dancers who travelled from far and wide—we hope you enjoyed yourselves at the Connie Ryan Gathering and we look forward to meeting you all again in June 2007. Regards,
Billy Maher, Clonoulty, Co Tipperary
Foresight and energyGood morning Bill,
Many thanks for the great work you do promoting set dancing. I had Frank and Bobbie Keenan over this weekend doing a workshop and we had this conversation on the way from the airport and it is true that all of us in the set dance world are very much indebted to you for having the foresight and energy to do what you do so well.
Long may you continue.
Breffni O’Brien, Manchester, England
That big family effect
Tom Kennedy’s birthday party (the big seven-O) was one of the nicest ceilis I’ve ever been to. Music was provided by the Glenside Ceili Band. We were up to five or six sets, and a group of non-dancing people of Tom’s family, friends and neighbours, in Feerick’s Hotel in Rathowen. It was all the crazy people who usually dance in Moate (One of them said, “There is no point in being crazy if you don’t show it!”) and the atmosphere was very very special—that “big family effect” which sometimes comes up between set dancers. The Glenside had us sing birthday songs for Tom and really put him at the centre of the event. They also found an ideal mixture between sets and other dances, so that also the non-set dancing people had fun. And Tom had a carvery and a big birthday cake for his guests, so everybody was really well cared for. Pity you missed this!
Not sure how far you are with the next issue of the Set Dancing News, but if you somehow could mention his birthday in it, I think he would be delighted.
Anne Pfuetzner, Ennis, Co Clare
The highlight of our weekBill,
We would like to say a special thank you to Mary Clancy and her two girls, Máiread and Mary Kate, for the highlight of our week at the Willie Clancy Summer School. Well done, Mary, take a bow. We could do with you in Tipperary such joy, fun, friendship and great atmosphere. We are still on a high. We will be back for more next year—great stuff!
Mary Holleran, Cahir, Co Tipperary
We had a farewell party
I met Kimie Tsuchiyama in Tubbercurry in July 2005. Kimie and her friends, Naomi, Aki and Mary Beth have been coming to my class in Saint Mary’s GAA Club, Saggart, Co Dublin. Kimie had to go home to Japan so we had a farewell party. It was a great night. Kimie will return for two weeks in September.
Bye Kimie—from Jim and the class at Saint Mary’s.
Jim Monaghan, Tallaght, Dublin
A sad noteHi Bill,
Sorry to write to you on a sad note, but tonight was a first ever—and I hope a not to be repeated—experience. I went with some friends to a ceili. We were just getting into the swing of the evening. We had danced the Cashel, the Labasheeda, and a waltz and were forming sets for the Ballyvourney Jig when the woman who was calling the sets asked if there was a doctor or nurse present. A gentleman who was still seated was having difficulty. Some of the folks present laid him on the floor and did CPR until emergency medical personnel arrived from the Fire and Rescue Department. They worked on him for a while before transporting him to hospital. After they left we had the tea break while the ceili committee decided that they would cancel the remainder of the evening’s festivities. They offered everyone the choice of a refund or to donate the proceeds to a medical charity. I think the gentleman died, but when I asked one of the fire fighters as we were leaving he said that the man was still being worked on. So, I really don’t know the outcome of this sad event. All I know is this: if he died, at least he died doing something that he loved. Would that we all could have such a demise. Now I feel like dancing like there’s no tomorrow. Hugs,
Claudia Nichols, Boston
Claudia, who was studying in Ireland in June and July, later informed me that the man had unfortunately died.
The Saint Mary’s Irish Set Dancers, from Saggart, Co Dublin, had a night out to celebrate Irene O’Brien’s birthday. We went to the Lemon Grass restaurant in the City West Golf Hotel. They serve Thai food which was delicious.
During the meal, a hand appeared on my shoulder. I turned and the man said, “How come you’re the only man among all these women?”
Immediately I replied, “How’s it goin’, John?” as we shook hands.
It was John Hume, former leader of the SDLP in Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Prize winner. John had a bit of craic with us and Irene’s friend Joan Keane asked him to sing a song. He obliged with Danny Boy—brilliant! John had to leave to meet some of his friends.
We were all delighted to meet him; he was very friendly and down to earth. The girls thought I knew him, but it was my first time to meet him. So Irene had John Hume at her birthday party, brilliant.
We all had a great night, a delicious meal and meeting John was the icing on the cake.
Jim Monaghan, Tallaght, Dublin
You know you’re a set dancer when . . .
But best of all, you know you’re a set dancer when you can go almost anywhere and find fellow kindred spirits, always ready to welcome you with a smile and a swing.
- You’ve two shoe collections: one for every day, one for dancing. Same with clothes.
- You tap out rhythms while waiting for elevators or standing at the photocopier. (Yes, you do! Admit it.)
- You’ve seen every corner of Ireland—from the inside of church halls and community centres, that is.
- You’ve set dancing friends from across the world—but do you know what any of them do for a living?
- You think nothing of flying to another country for the weekend, only to spend it indoors. (This one truly baffles your non-set dancing friends.)
- You mention Pat, Mick, or Aidan and expect everyone to know who you mean.
- Toss the Feathers is your other Bible.
- Set Dancing News is your holiday planner.
Elizabeth MacDonald, Selfkant, Germany
Originally published in the programme booklet for the Leuven set dancing weekend last February.
A report from the Newry Commercial Telegraph, dated Tuesday 17 January 1834, reproduced here verbatim and in its entirety—
Consequences of Not Kissing—A trial took place a few days ago, before the Court of Assize for the department of Aisne, sitting at Laon [120km northest of Paris], which exhibits an unusual instance of female vengeance. A young woman of 25, named Sabine Bresillon, residing at Etampes, was accused of attempting to assassinate a young man named Montaubant, in consequence of his having insulted her at a ball. On the 23rd of December, 1833, the parties were dancing a quadrille together. In one part of the dance each gentleman was to kiss the opposite lady, but when it came to Moutaubant’s turn, instead of embracing his partner, he kissed his own hand. This insult, committed in the midst of the young girl’s companions, produced a very forcible impression on her, and from this period she made up her mind to take signal vengeance. Shortly after the dance, Sabine dressed herself as a man, and, about six o’clock in the evening, stationed herself at a lonely spot where she knew Montaubant would pass. When he approached her, she asked if it was he, and on his replying in the affirmative, she inflicted a dangerous wound in his stomach with a pork-butcher’s large knife. At the cries of the young man, who, though dangerously wounded, had strength to hold his assailant, several persons came up, and Sabine Bresillon was instantly recognised. She declared, with the most perfect calmness, that her object in inflicting the wound was to revenge herself for the insult which she had received at the dance. The young man was for some time in danger, but the wound did not prove mortal. The Jury found that there were extenuating circumstances, and the vindictive female was sentenced to eight years’ hard labor.—Gazette des Tribunaux.
Thanks to Jim Blaney, Lurgan, Co Armagh, for passing this on to Set Dancing News and warning us all of a potential risk to our health in set dancing.
The Emerald Ceili Band is one of the most popular bands playing for set dancing ceilis across Ireland. Their lively sound will be missing from halls after the summer because they are taking a break for a year. Their box player, Matt Ward, is spending a year in Spain as a requirement of his university degree programme which combines Spanish and business studies. Matt will be based at the Univerity of Léon in northwest Spain beginning in September and is expected to return home at the end of the academic year in June 2007.
Meanwhile, the other four members of the band are not taking any bookings for set dancing ceilis until Matt’s return, though they will continue to play together for weddings and smaller local events near their home base in Co Tyrone. Their last scheduled date is the ceili on Saturday August 26th in St Anne’s GAA Club, Bohernabreena, Tallaght, Dublin 24. Dance to them while you can!
Very good luck to Matt in Spain—we’ll miss him here but he’s taking the box along so there’s bound to be some mighty sessions in Léon!
Congratulations all ’round
Eilís Quinlan and P J Curran are a happy pair of dancers who married on the 12th of May in Rome. Eilís is a Laois girl and P J is from Mullingar and they met in the Plain Set at the Nenagh set dancing weekend in January 2004. They’ll be forever grateful to the Nenagh set dancers for bringing them together!
Set dancing teacher Olive Lynch from Bantry, Co Cork, became the mother of a baby boy on May 30th. The child was christened Renato Paulo on June 17th with the assistance of father Paulo and godfather John Finbarr Crowley. The party that followed featured a cake decorated with a marzipan sleeping baby.
Colm Nestor and Karen Kierce were married in Clarecastle, Co Clare, on June 24th. Colm is a set dancer, a flute player, the secretary of the Fleadh Nua committee and a teacher at a weekly set dancing class. Set dancing runs strong in Karen’s blood as her mother Bridie is a mighty dancer.
Danny’s new CDs
The amazing one-man accordion band, Danny Webster, has been busy in the recording studio, with two new CDs released recently. Dan the Accordion Man is a collection of tunes and songs with a traditional flavour, and Solid Gold is a selection of instrumentals suitable for ballroom dancing. Danny’s first CD, Ceili Time in Ireland. with music for set dancing, was released last October. Danny, from Kilkenny, is widely known in Ireland thanks to his participation on the holiday tours to Ibiza and Portugal.
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
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