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 Catskill Mountains region is a beautiful forested wilderness area in the state of New York, conveniently within a couple of hours travelling time north from New York City. As I was driving through the Catskills in late October I admired the mountains, but couldn't help being overwhelmed by the forests covering them, which were at the peak of their autumn colour. My views from the car gradually changed from towns and shopping centres to mountains and hills covered by pure forest. The mostly unspoilt beauty of the area has long made it a popular vacation destination, and there are numerous large resort hotels in the area which offer urban escapees a bit of nature.
For all the natural beauty surrounding me, once I arrived at the Nevele Grand Hotel outside the tiny town of Ellenville, I never gave it another thought! Dancing was my top priority at another of Gertrude Byrne's #1 Irish weekends from October 27th to 29th. This has long been one of the few places in the States where you can dance to at least two ceili bands from Ireland and take lessons from an Irish teacher. The attractions this time were the workshops with Tony Ryan from Galway and music by the Swallow's Tail and Esker Riada ceili bands.
As I arrived, a security guard at the entrance to the grounds asked my name, couldn't find me on his list and luckily let me in anyway. While waiting to check into my room many dancers offered me their warm welcomes. One fellow was wasting no time to get checked in and ready for the opening afternoon ceili. His favourite moment happens at the start of the very first set - he said he loves to see the smiles on everyone's faces as the dancing begins.
I checked into my room as quickly as I could but when I came down ready to dance, I'd missed that magic moment - the Caledonian Set was already underway. It gave me a chance to chat to a few other latecomers and then I made my own smiles as I started with the second set. Music was by Pete Kelly and his band who seem to have a few special tunes that I don't hear anywhere else, so they're always a pleasure. The ceili was just a short two-hour warm-up, followed at 6pm by a cocktail party in the hotel lobby and dinner at 7pm for hundreds of guests in the dining room.
The two guest ceili bands shared five hours of dancing, with Swallow's Tail on first. They received an eager reception and made a strong impression with their bright and lively music. Young Barry Brady, their new box player from Co Roscommon, enjoyed the ceili and was clearly delighted to be here. Michael Hurley (flute) was here with his son Dermot who was substituting on drums, and John McHugh (fiddle) was joined by his wife Maria who filled in on the piano. The selection of sets included the Paris and the Claddagh, which was confidently attempted by most of the dancers thanks to calling by Tony Ryan.
Esker Riada played for the second half, and they were a rare treat. The band has retired from active duty in Ireland, but they are occasionally tempted to the Catskills, probably the only place you'll find them at ceilis nowadays. If they hadn't played for a while, you'd never have been able to tell from their performance at the ceili. They were fresh and bouncy, with a brilliant tempo and inspiring lift. Their music has a richness and texture all its own and a selection of tunes full of surprises. Regular members Denis Ryan, Mick Guilfoyle and Ellen Comerford (fiddle, banjo and box) were present, together with Eugene Nolan, Pat O'Meara and P J Daly (flute, piano and drums). They played reels and polkas with equal ease and gave us the first West Kerry Set of the weekend tonight. They continued until 2am, though only a few sets remained by then as many dancers had slipped away to their bedrooms.
The weekend package included all entertainment, accommodation and meals, which are all taken in the dining room. Everyone chooses a table for themselves on Friday where we sat for all our meals. Once I got to know my dining partners they were a bit like a surrogate family where we could feel comfortable discussing the events of the day. Breakfast was the most relaxed meal as people drifted in when they were ready, but everyone sat for the other meals at the same time.
After breakfast on Saturday morning I reported to the ballroom for the workshop with Tony Ryan. In two and a half hours he taught the Roscahill and East Galway (long version) sets and finished up with a selection of steps. Tony was in top form, bright, friendly and cheerful, relaxed and easygoing yet full of energy. For the first ninety minutes he spoke without a microphone during the demonstrations - the one on stage didn't reach to the floor - so the twenty or so sets paid close attention to his words. Luckily a hand mike was available for the last hour. When the energetic East Galway was finished there wasn't time for another full set, so Tony launched into a series of steps, one after the other. He explained them briefly and then just danced away in the centre of the floor while we tried to copy him. He made it sound easy and gave plenty of practice. "Try it and enjoy it," he said, adding that it wasn't important to get it the first time. "Each time you try it you'll get nearer."
Tony was back after lunch to call the sets at the ceili with Swallow's Tail, where we had further practice at the workshop sets. At the same time there was also ballroom dancing and a jiving competition in an adjacent room, and some dancers were torn between the two.
When the ceili finished at five o'clock there was an hour to get ready for dinner. Nearly everyone donned their best togs for Saturday's cocktail hour and dinner. The cocktail hour was a meal in itself with unlimited amounts of finger food served by the staff. Only one group of visitors noticed the weekend's proximity to Halloween; they disguised themselves as a king and queen and four birds. In conversation with some of the birds, they asked me what I thought they were dressed as, and the only thing that came to mind was the Four Hens of the Apocalypse. Naturally they were annoyed that I didn't recognise them as swans and the children of Lir; the king and queen were Lir and his evil wife Aoife. They frolicked on the lobby floor to country music in marked contrast to all the ballroom dancers there.
Saturday night dinner in the Nevele always begins with a joyful display of American and Irish patriotism. All the diners were asked to stand and sing along with songs performed by one of the country musicians. Full size American and Irish flags were paraded around the huge dining room and a long line of people followed waving the tiny flags that had been placed at every seat. After five minutes of the Grand March, as it's called, and a prayer from the priest, we were ready to begin the meal.
By the time my table had finished dining and chatting, the ceili with Pete Kelly had already begun, but with another five hours of dancing ahead of me there wasn't any need to rush. Near the end of the first half I was invited to a "between the bands" party in one of the bedrooms; they offered drinks and snacks which would have been welcome. Unfortunately I already was booked for the first set in the second half and didn't want to risk being late again. Esker Riada had the honour of the late shift, beginning with the Plain Set. They also played the West Kerry once again and I wasn't the only one pleased by that. Later in the evening, I was most impressed when the band announced the Skibbereen Set, and a floor full of dancers gladly got up to dance it without any need for calling. However, one gent was left partnerless when his wife didn't return from a quick trip to their room. Just in the nick of time, another gent sitting on the sidelines hopped into her place and the two of them made a hilarious couple. When the wife finally appeared, she let them continue and enjoyed the comic spectacle. At the end of the ceili I was happy to receive an invitation to an "after the ceili" party. This time I had no prior commitments, and as the clocks were being put back, I didn't need to worry about losing sleep.
The Sunday morning ceili is not to be missed at the Nevele weekends - this is when the two Irish bands play together for a final two-hour appearance. Both musicians and dancers showed up by 11am after breakfast and Mass, but unfortunately the sound system wasn't ready for them. No one seemed to mind as the ballroom was instead buzzing with conversation for three-quarters of an hour. Once the equipment was ready, the ceili began immediately with an atmosphere of delight. The combination of two superb bands produced electrifying music for a couple of plain sets and one more West Kerry! No one wanted to stop when it was time for the lunch break. The musicians managed to give us an extra rake of reels, and then they needed to eat and get ready for their long journey home to Ireland.
Many people started their own journeys home after lunch, but for those who weren't in a hurry there was one final ceili with Pete Kelly. Even after all the dancing there was still plenty of fun left in us. In the Ballyvourney Set I was amused to see that the gent and lady to my left had swapped places for the craic. When it came time for the fourth figure, my corner "lady" seemed to have forgotten about swinging with me - it happens all the time - and I always enjoy surprising a forgetful lady.
The ceili ended quietly with a few final fond farewells. For the first time all weekend I emerged into the refreshing Catskills air and admired the beautiful surroundings on an exceptionally fine evening. I would have enjoyed walking the hotel grounds which stretch up a mountain to a beautiful waterfall, but with over twenty hours of unmissable dancing this weekend, there was no time to do anything else. The only scenic views I saw were from the window of my hired car as I drove away thinking of my friends and good times at the #1 Irish weekend.
The set dancing community lost a well-loved friend with the death of Val Deane of Blarney Street, Cork City, on September 29, 2006. His loss is felt most deeply by his family (which includes his brother Flor, a well-known set dancer), and we wish to extend to them our sincere sympathy.
For those of us who knew Val through set dancing, we will miss him but we also celebrate the great times we shared with him. Val made friends everywhere and through everything he did, but the set dancing community was especially close to his heart. He would say that he met lots of great people but that the people from set dancing were the best of the lot. (Of course, knowing Val and that twinkle in his eye, this accolade may have been given to others too!)
There wasn't a set dancing venue, a set dancing weekend or get-together anywhere from Aubane to Blankenheim that Val didn't attend. He had friends everywhere through his love of set dancing, mountaineering and storytelling. Val would entertain us on journeys in Ireland with tales from every place about the people, mountains and his set dancing escapades.
Val had a way with people. He loved people; he loved meeting people; he loved making friends. He could meet anyone of any age and from any place, and within seconds he would be joking and chatting. There were no barriers with Val - he was warm, welcoming and would encourage newcomers to set dancing. He had a knack of making people feel special. He was the life and soul of parties, dancing all night and giving a rendition of his party piece, The Bould Thady Quill. He was eager to enjoy every second of a night out. Val would complain that a certain couple of ladies in Cork would only get to a céilí in time for Amhrán na bhFiann, and complain that others dragged him away early from parties - despite the fact that he was always the last to leave.
Val was a charming and witty man who displayed the best of that sharp Northside sense of humour. Asking Val a question, there would be that pause, an incline of the head, a glance up with a glint in the eye, and then a clever response followed by a mischievous smile. To a suggestion that we might need to bring food and drink to a party of a very generous host, Val would give a glance and remark characteristically "'Twould be like throwing apples into an orchard!"
Val's enthusiasm for life was boundless and infectious. How often were we cajoled by Val into going somewhere or doing something - and of course it was always fun. His comment when asked about most events was, "It was bbb-brilliant!" It was only the very odd time when he'd be heard to say "It was bb-brutal." As well as set dancing, Val was a long-time mountaineer. He had extensive knowledge of the mountains of Ireland and was meticulous in his preparation for walks. He led many groups on hikes that were carefully planned but full of fun. He introduced Pat Falvey, the well-known mountaineer, to the mountains and Pat remained a loyal friend. Val's energy was legendary, and he often combined the set dancing and hill walking. A few years ago he turned up for the Friday night céilí of the Dingle weekend, and told us that he had climbed Carrauntoohill that afternoon to break the journey down from Cork! He faced new challenges with enthusiasm. During the past summer he took up sea-kayaking, buying himself a wetsuit and enjoying kayaking with friends in Oysterhaven.
There was a wonderful turn-out for his removal and funeral, and particularly so from his set dancing friends. Many more friends could not attend but shared the grief at Val's passing and the appreciation of his life and friendship. People came from far and near including (but not limited to) Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford, Tipperary, Clare, Galway, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Dublin, Wexford and Switzerland. On the day of the funeral Val was accompanied on his final journey with wonderful traditional music from the group of Eilís Murphy, Dan Murphy, Marie Twoomey and Liam Forde, and from Máire Cogan on the uileann pipes. The musicians were all personal friends of Val and honoured him in a most appropriate way. The Ballyvourney Jig was danced outside the church in two sets with lots of swapping in and out by dancing friends of Val.
Val was involved in the Proinnsias Uí Neill branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Cork. He was one of the organising committee and served as vice chairman (often called chairman of vice!) for the last seven years. At the branch's first céilí of this winter, October 26rd, 2006, there were special tributes to Val. There was a display consisting of photos and a poem specially written for Val. The Bould Thady Quill was sung in place of a minute's silence, and at 10.30pm the Ballyvourney Jig was danced in Val's honour. Simultaneously at 10.30pm friends all over Ireland, Britain, France and Switzerland joined the over 100 dancers at the céilí dancing the Ballyvourney Jig. Over thirty other venues were dancing from the Milking Parlour in Boherbue to Paris. It was a wonderful gesture by all who took part. In addition, there have been many generous tributes to Val at other events in Ireland and overseas in the weeks since his death. His set dancing friends have done him proud, and there is no doubt that Val would appreciate it.
Val was a great example of living life to the full. He was warm and welcoming to newcomers and loyal to old friends. We miss his charm, his optimism, his wit, his good humour. While we are sorry at his going, we are also happy to have known him. Val enriched all our lives. We all hold treasured personal memories of Val, and through these he will always remain in our hearts. We express our sympathy again to his family and many friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
John Herbert, on behalf of Val's friends in the Proinnsias Uí Néill branch
It is with great sadness that I'm writing to you to inform you of the death on Wednesday 20th September last of our great friend Maureen Boylan.
Maureen was a founder member of our group in the early 1980s and was a great inspiration to us all. Outside of her family life Maureen's great love was set dancing. She had made hundreds of friends all over the country and beyond with her love of dancing. Maureen loved to go to workshops and learn new sets and make new friends. She danced in competitions for some years and was a member of an All-Ireland winning team.
On behalf of our dance group I extend our sympathy to the whole Boylan family.
May she rest in peace.
Shay White, Staleen, Donore, Co Meath
Farewell gentle ladyOn September 20th Maureen Boylan passed on to her eternal rest.
We came to know Maureen through set dancing, of course. She danced all over Ireland at ceilis and was a brilliant set dancer and danced waltzes and quicksteps always with a smile on her face.
Even though she had been in bad health for some years the love of set dancing and meeting her friends helped her forget her pain, but in the end God called Maureen home.
We will never forget you, Maureen. May you rest in peace.
Michael and Patsy Finn, Newbristy, Rathconrath, Co Westmeath
Kathleen, from Killarney, Co Kerry, was a very bubbly, outgoing person who loved meeting people and most of all she loved her set dancing.
Having Kathleen in your set was sure to be enjoyable. She was great for adding extra steps and fun. She had a word for everyone and a great welcome for someone new in the set. Herself and the late Val Deane were great friends.
Kathleen and husband John went set dancing to the Grand Hotel in Killarney every Wednesday night, to Ballyvourney every Thursday night, to Anne Mannion's class at Darby O'Gills in Killarney on Monday night and to all the Sunday ceilis. She was very popular with everyone.
She got a great buzz from helping people no matter what. She taught me to swim; we had great fun in the pool. She also had a word with the men in the pool especially around the time of the Munster and All-Ireland finals. She was a true Kerrywoman. She spoke fondly of her family and grandchildren. Kathleen and her husband John loved going for walks and long cycles.
She died at home on Sunday October 15th. She had a huge funeral and a guard of honour of set dancers.
She was a very caring friend. We will miss her dearly.
Nora O'Riordan, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
Hello there Bill,
I had a wonderful time in Colorado [on a house exchange holiday in October], snow, sun and plenty of walking. I enjoyed being 'snowed in' in such a magical place. Enclosed is a picture of the house I stayed at for two weeks.
Thanks for all your help and information about dancing in Colorado. I made contact with Molly Bennett in Denver and attended one of her ceili classes. Molly and her sister are doing trojan work for the Irish culture in Denver.
Enclosed is a picture of a nine-hand dance that they do above right. It is called the House of Parliament. Each person gets a chance to be the Prime Minister while the other eight people dance around you, and you get a chance to do a solo dance in the middle of the circle.
None of the class have ever been to Ireland, so I suggested they make a trip to one of our big workshop weekends, like Willie Clancy. They got very excited when I told them of all the dancing, music and craic involved. They may make it over sometime.
All the very best, Bill. Slainte,
Celia Gaffney, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Remembering DonnchaDear Bill
The organising committee of the commemorative set dance and ceili events taking place during the month of March 2007 would like to thank most sincerely those who have contacted us to date and expressed great interest in remembering and honouring Donncha Ó Muíneacháin. If you are interested in joining with us and organising a night of dancing or music in Donncha's memory, please contact one of the committee.
Le buíochas agus gach dea-ghuí.
Brian Doyle, Mary Murphy, Rhoda Uí Chonaire, Lorcan Murphy, Nuala Doyle, Margaret Campbell
We were just so happyHi Bill
Thank you for a great magazine full of news on set dancing all over the world. I have just returned from overseas with my two daughters and two friends. We had two wonderful weeks in Ireland, sightseeing and travelling all over from the south to the north, west to east. We were very lucky to be in Hollymount, Co Mayo, for their social on 9th September. It was a great night and the dancers made us most welcome. We danced every dance and we were just so happy that we knew all the sets. The live music of Matt Cunningham and band was an added bonus. We stayed in Ballinrobe with set dancing friends who we met while they were living in Australia. It was a disappointment that we didn't find any other socials or classes during our stay but we were warned that it was the rest season. While staying in Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, we drove to a couple of different venues looking for a class but to no avail. Ireland was so lovely and green, not like here where we have water restrictions, and everywhere is brown. We flew into Cork and did a semicircle north and around to Dublin in time for the All-Ireland final. We are now back to set dancing here in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, and gearing up for our Christmas get together. We will then have our rest time over the Christmas-New Year holiday break (summertime).
Clare Guiney, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Ruby wedding anniversaryHi Bill,
Here is a picture of Margaret and Johnny Fagan celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary. Mass, a meal and dancing to the Sean Norman Ceili Band took place in the Old Darnley Lodge Hotel, Athboy, Co Meath. A great night was had by both family and friends.
Pat Dunne, Curtistown, Kilmessan, Co Meath
Sean Treacy visits OmaghDear Bill,
On 13th to 15th October, 67 members (both young and older) from the Sean Treacy Comhaltas Group in Dublin arrived in Omagh for a weekend of music and dancing.
A busy schedule of events was organised which included a music and dancing session on Friday night in Dun Uladh Heritage Centre, a visit to the Ulster American Folk Park on Saturday morning, a ceili with the Copperplate Ceili Band that night and concluding with a farewell meal and music session in McCann's Pub.
On behalf of Omagh Traditional Dancing Club, I would like to thank the group for visiting Omagh. A special thanks to Mary Whelan and John Mulligan who organised the group's visit and also to Julie McElroy, Marie Garrity and everyone who contributed to such an enjoyable weekend. Looking forward to the 'return leg' in Dublin next year!
Paul Cairns, Omagh Traditional Dancing Club
Smiling French feetDear Bill,
On October 28th, forty dancers from all over Brittany celebrated the tenth anniversary of the set dancing club Ker'O'zen in Queven near Lorient. Our club was created in 1996 by Denise Barry, an Irish girl from Ennis, County Clare.
First we shared a dinner cooked by the club's dancers and then we all had great fun dancing sets to music played by the Ker'O'zen and Clan bands. They all played for free and we thank them a lot.
We also celebrated the new name for the club - Smiling Feet Irish Dancing. We dance every Wednesday evening in a bar called Bar la Fontaine, Stang Kergolan, Queven. Visitors welcome.
Bernadette Fender, Bannalec, Brittany, France
Everyone who supported usHi Bill,
We would like to thank everyone who supported us in Listowel, Co Kerry, and helped in making it a very successful weekend [October 20-22; see pages 20-21]. A big thank you to our overseas friends for their support of our fourth annual weekend and to those who attended from every county in Ireland. We would like to thank Seamus Melvin and Pat Murphy for their most enjoyable and informative workshops. To the bands - the Davey family, the Johnny Reidy band, the Abbey and the Matt Cunningham band - thanks for your heartful performances. To yourself Bill, thanks for your continued support and coverage. Preparations are already underway for next year, the 19th, 20th and 21st of October. Looking forward to seeing ye all again.
Mary Philpott, Jerry O'Rourke, Michael O'Rourke Stepping it Out Set Dancing Club, Co Kerry
After successfully releasing a popular two-hand dancing dvd last year called The Pride of Erin, Pat Murphy has just produced a new dvd of set dancing called Céilí Cois Cuain Volume 1. It presents four sets, the Derradda, Kilfenora, Cashel and Claddagh danced to the music of Heather Breeze Ceili Band.
The disk includes a short introduction from Pat, a few scenes of Heather Breeze and some Mayo scenery. The sets are shown simply from a single camera so that the entire set is visible at all times. There is no instruction while the set is danced, but in a separate instructional part of the DVD, Pat explains each figure as the demo set walks through the moves.
Pat filmed the sets in June in the Derradda Community Centre in Co Mayo, a former National School now converted to a hall and in regular use for ceilis. Pat, from Westport, Co Mayo, used a team of mostly local dancers, both young and not so young, for the demonstrations, though your editor did volunteer to dance in a couple of the sets.
Just as with the first dvd, Pat did all the production work himself, from the filming and editing to the cover design and photography. The title means 'ceili by the harbour', because in Co Mayo you're never too far from the sea. Pat has enjoyed making his two dvds and hopes to produce more of them in future. Get your copy from Pat at his workshops.
Set Dancing News' romantic story, Loving You in Waltz Hold, is written by Cynthia Neale, who as well as being an avid set dancer, is a professional novelist. Cynthia lives in Hampstead, New Hampshire, in a 200 year old house where she holds occasional ceilis. She has published one novel, expects a new one to be released early next year and is already at work on her third.
Cynthia's first novel is a story of the Irish famine for young readers called The Irish Dresser, which was first released in 2004. This year it has recently been re-released in a new edition complete with educational resources for teachers. Her new novel, Hope in New York City, continues the emigration story of the first novel as the main character arrives in New York. Cynthia's third novel will be based on the same characters though it is intended for adult readers.
Davy Joe Fallon is the veteran accordionist with Carousel Ceili Band, the trio which plays for all the local ceilis between Dublin and Mayo. Davy Joe was honoured for his music by the Castletown Geoghegan branch of Comhaltas in 2005 and two DVDs were released soon after to commemorate the event. Davy Joe Fallon and Friends and Musical Memories of Davy Joe Fallon were recorded at the night of tribute in the local hall. At least three ceili bands are among the crowd of musicians playing along on the informal night, which also includes sets, songs, tributes, an interview and plenty of beautiful music. The DVDs would be of interest to fans of Carousel and is available from Olly Gallagher, 044 934 2283.
Brid O'Donohue is a tin whistler who sometimes fills in with the Four Courts Ceili Band. Recently she was fortunate enough to be asked to do this for the Craic on the Cruise tour of the Mediterranean. She had a fabulous time and met lots of dancers who were interested in her music. Unfortunately she brought no copies of her excellent solo CD, Tobar an Dúchais, on the cruise. Brid is advertising them in this issue so those who expressed interest can get copies for themselves.
The World Fleadh made its first appearance in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, in August 2006. It was claimed to be a new kind of festival for Ireland, modelled on popular Irish festivals held in other countries. Your editor danced his way through every bit of the fleadh with tremendous enjoyment, as you can read in the following report.
Sunday 13 AugustOn this beautiful evening I arrived in Ballybunion for my week at the World Fleadh. After a quick supper I rushed outside to explore the town in the fast fading light of the day. Down the road from my flat I located the Tinteán Theatre; a large marquee had been erected beside it for the week's ceilis. The buildings were dark and there was no one to be seen, apart from a few other set dancers also out on safari. I peered into the marquee through glass doors and was pleased to see a vast, smooth, level floor which appeared to be made of a synthetic material; I decided to reserve judgement until my first ceili there. Behind the marquee were stacks of chairs waiting to go inside and a new car to be raffled off during the week.
I strolled down the town's main street and found myself in the company of numerous exuberant patrons of the many pubs along the way. The bright lights of a funfair attracted my attention, though I wasn't tempted to try any of the amusements. The only thrills that interest me are the ones I get from a few whirls on the dance floor. In a playground behind the funfair a few children were happily climbing, jumping, spinning, swinging and see-sawing on simple, free amusements in nearly complete darkness.
Monday 14 AugustThe World Fleadh started quietly at an enjoyable little workshop with Betty McCoy and Aidan Vaughan. I arrived at the Golf Hotel in downtown Ballybunion and took the lift to the top floor. Here there was a beautiful function room lined on two sides by windows with panoramic views of town, coast and countryside. In addition, the floor was fully timbered in oak. At the admission desk were two set dancers, Mary Philpott, an experienced organiser who was in overall charge of the set dancing at the World Fleadh, and Miriam McEnery, who was looking after the workshops. I was reassured to see keen dancers and familiar friendly faces involved with the festival.
Aidan Vaughan taught a few of his basic battering steps during the first hour of the morning session which ran from 10.30am to 1pm. He emphasised the importance of using the appropriate steps for each set. If we use the same steps for every set, "all the good has gone out of it," he said. We finished the morning by dancing most of the Clare Orange and Green Set. After lunch we were about to launch into another figure of the set when a team from TG4, RTÉ's Irish language TV channel, came in to film the workshop. Rather than take the time to teach the new figure before the camera, Aidan had us repeat the first figure which satisfied the media men. Then, however, a newspaper photographer took away three of our dancers, a mother and two sons, for photographs outside on the roof, which left a set incomplete. We practiced the figures twice until the missing dancers returned. Afterward, Aidan taught the North Clare Set, a simplified version of the Caledonian in which all four or any number of couples dance the moves together, and ended up with the Labasheeda Set. Betty McCoy lent the class her good-natured assistance all day and was especially helpful directing traffic in the sets with less experienced dancers.
Wandering the town before the ceili I noticed that the funfair had expanded to include rides that knotted my innards just watching them in operation from the safety of the ground. On them I spotted set dancers much braver than I was. The festival organised a roster of musicians to play for a couple of hours each evening in several pubs, and I heard them as I passed. I met Pat Fleming, a box player from Boherbue, Co Cork, who was employed as the pub musicians' coordinator to ensure players were in the pubs on time. One of the shop fronts in town displayed all the trophies and medals, around fifty in total, to be won in competitions later in the week.
I was eagerly anticipating tonight's opening ceili with the Tulla Ceili Band. Entrance to the marquee was through the Tinteán Theatre, where tickets, drinks, snacks, comfortable seating and sanitary facilities were available before and during the ceili. A pair of side exit doors connected directly to the marquee, and a couple of staffers checked tickets on the way in and handed out little return tickets to anyone on their way out. Since my inspection yesterday, the marquee had been supplied with a stage, sound system, lights and chairs, freshly cleaned by Mary Philpott and helpers. I tried out a few steps on the floor and thought it had a good bounce and sound. I was told the space was big enough for 150 sets but the 25 sets here tonight clustered together in the centre close to the band. We began with the South Galway and finished up with three plain sets in a row, with Anne Keane as our low key MC. The Tulla were as sweet as ever to dance to, especially with the good sound in the marquee, and the floor was a pleasure to dance on. The warm atmosphere, enthusiastic dancers and beautiful music left me feeling great and optimistic about the week's dancing.
Tuesday 15 August
Workshops at the World Fleadh offered a new teacher each day, and Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin were in charge today. The first thing Paddy did was admire the view, and even with the bad weather that had arrived overnight we could still see the Loop Head Peninsula of Co Clare. Paddy thought you could swim to Clare, it was so close. He started us off with the Black Valley Square Jig Set. After the demo, one of the sets was short a person so Paddy himself joined the seven waiting ladies to form what he called a "harem set". Later he supplied a weather update to inform us that Co Clare had disappeared and with the rain lashing outside he advised us to remain in Ballybunion. The castle on the cliff was still visible; this he said was the location for the first of his many proposals of marriage to Carolyn.
Announcements broadcast over loudspeakers on the street and made in the class informed us of a live interview with Frankie Gavin in the theatre. I went immediately after class and slipped in quietly after it had started. It was a fascinating interview and Frankie had the fiddle handy to play a few of his favourite tunes. He said that one of his musical aims was to "keep people on their feet." There were several such events during the week-a welcome addition to the Fleadh programme.
Thanks to the popularity of Johnny Reidy and his ceili band, the Tuesday night ceili turned out to be the biggest of the week. At its peak there were around 55 sets on the floor, all under Johnny's complete control. His music has the power to make you forget everything and just give yourself over to the pleasure of the sets. Johnny always generates spontaneous cheers from the floor, and one time when we weren't quite vocal enough, MC Paddy Hanafin brought a bigger response when he asked, "Is that the best ye can do for such fine music?" When the World Fleadh organiser Eric Cunningham stopped by the ceili Paddy introduced him to the dancers who gave a warm round of applause. There was an entertainment break when a half set of young Hell for Leather dancers from Clare battered their way through a couple figures of the Plain Set. In the second half the main lights in the marquee went dark a few times. The sound and stage lights were unaffected so Paddy aimed a few of the spotlights on the crowd to help us see our way through the sets. The ceili ended with acclaim for the band and Johnny shook hands and posed for photos for a long while afterward.
Wednesday 16 AugustPat Murphy arrived at the top floor of the Golf Hotel today and taught three Co Galway sets-the Claddagh, South Galway and Roscahill. The first two were completed in the morning session, plus the first figure of the Roscahill, which we finished after the lunch break. The next set, the Tory Island Set, took us up to the far north of Donegal. There were three or four sets in the morning and in the afternoon this increased to six or seven. The extra dancers who missed the first figure of the Roscahill Set requested Pat to dance it again. Miriam, the workshop "Department Manager", continued to look after us well by keeping us supplied with jugs of water and clean drinking glasses. She had also taken note of our comments about the floor earlier in the week and asked the hotel staff to clean it rather than wax it each day; today the dancing was noticeably easier.
Tonight's ceili featured those perennial favourites, the Glenside Ceili Band, in a fun-filled ceili. Limerick teacher John Joe Tierney announced the dances, filled the sets (quite a time-consuming job) and called the moves. His programme included the Mazurka, Claddagh and Newport sets, which hadn't been danced at previous ceilis. During the breaks many people left the marquee and went into the theatre lobby where sandwiches, tea and other drinks were available. The members of the bands took their break there too at a table set up especially for them.
Thursday 17 AugustTaking their turn at teaching the workshop today were Pádraig and Róisín McEneaney. Some new beginning dancers joined in the class today, so Pádraig took time at the beginning (and at other suitable moments throughout the day) to practice steps. He said there should "hardly be any daylight between your feet and the floor" when dancing sets. The first set he taught was a new one for me, the Rathgormack Lancers from Co Waterford. It had moves similar to the Clare Lancers but danced to polkas and might have had even more swinging. I'll remember it for the "charge" in the second figure. This is where the set makes two lines which advance and retire toward each other. In Rathgormack the lines hold onto each other bodily, rather than taking hands, and charge in and out by taking four jumps forward and back. Pádraig told us to aim our jumps alternately to the left and right, which the visiting Italian dancers claimed was what you do when learning to ski! As if that version of the Lancers wasn't challenging enough, we continued with the South Sligo Lancers, which is full of interesting moves and steps.
The stage was decorated with red and white balloons for the Davey Ceili Band tonight. Some of them became dislodged during the dancing and floated away into the top of the marquee. The Davey's exuberant joyous music filled everyone with delight. I was fascinated to watch Nigel Davey on box and Laura Beagon on fiddle as they chatted to each other and laughed like they were telling jokes, all while playing magical music in the middle of a set! My first set was with a lady whose husband was with her; he didn't dance and sat during the ceili. What a pity, I thought, that he couldn't experience how beautiful a dancer his wife is. The last set of the night was the Corofin Plain Set and fortunately my partner for it shared my interest in doubling-we were spinning every chance we had. Immediately after the final polka figure the band continued with some reels and John Davey told us to dance the third figure of the Connemara. My opposite gent had a mischievous grin when we were doing the Christmas; he didn't give up my hand after eight bars so I kept his and we continued for sixteen. Afterward I discovered there was a plainclothes officer from the set dancing police in my set. He cautioned me about the dancing the Connemara incorrectly but took no notice of the doubling in the Corofin, so I think I got off lightly.
Friday 18 August
I was nearly the first to arrive at the workshop this morning and already the ice and water were ready and the ceiling fans were turning. Pat Murphy was back today and started with the Paris Set. I found that I had two partners in this set, my own partner on my right and my corner lady on the left. After doing the set left and set right all morning, I found that my corner and I had developed a special relationship. But then the set ended and we continued with the Valentia Right and Left Set. In the afternoon we returned to Clare with the Loughgraney Set and there was still time for the Pride of Erin Waltz after that. As the last of the week's all-day workshops, there were plenty of farewell thanks and goodbyes from the core of dedicated set dancers who'd been here all week.
The first of the World Fleadh's competitions began at 6pm in the top of the Golf Hotel. When setting up the room, Mary Philpott wondered if fifty chairs would be enough, but there were probably over 200 spectators. The competitors were in three age categories, with four competitors aged 12 and under in the first group. Each dancer performed his or her steps accompanied by Matt Cunningham on solo accordion. A gap of three minutes or more between each competitor allowed the judges time to carefully consider the dancer's performance. The second category included five dancers from 13 to 17 and the third included six aged 18 and over. The competition was open until the last dancer had performed, and one spectator paid his fee on the spot and became one of the last competitors. While the judges were making their final deliberations, one of the youngest competitors did a brush dance and a set of mostly non-competitors battered their way through a bit of the Plain Set. The winners in each category, Zara Hill, Louise Devitt and Edwina Guckian, received trophies and cash prizes; the six second and third place dancers were awarded medals.
At the ceili that night I had my best night ever with the Kilfenora Ceili Band. After the opening Caledonian Set, MC Timmy Woulfe announced the West Kerry Set and at first I assumed he was joking. I've always associated the Kilfenora with Clare reels, but they've certainly perfected their Kerry polkas! They were played in the Kerry style at a Kerry pace and I was overjoyed with the set. When we later danced the Borlin Polka Set I felt myself to be doubly fortunate. How ironic that the two best polka sets of the week would come from a traditional Clare ceili band! Of course the band gave their usual rousing performance when playing reels, and also provided some charming waltzes. I love long distance waltzing and a spacious marquee is an ideal place to practice it. I think my partner and I must have travelled around the very long perimeter at least twice, turning all the way. In the second half there was a pause to let everyone see young Zara Hill dance her prize-winning sean nós steps.
Saturday 19 AugustFrom the vantage point of the Golf Hotel over the past few days I noticed marquees going up near the cliffs for food and market stalls and for the outdoor concert stage. Today they were all in full use as the World Fleadh reached its weekend climax with a long and varied events programme. There was a choice of workshops in the morning and afternoon. I started the day with Céline and Michael Tubridy who taught a traditional step dance done to jigs called Single Time. It's performed individually but looks beautiful when a circle of dancers do it together as we did in class. Céline and Michael and their cassette player sounded very quiet against the ventilation system in the Golf Hotel's disco; it got even louder after we asked the staff to turn it off. There were no such worries in Maureen Culleton's ceili and two-hand dancing class in the same place that afternoon. Her music was provided live by Colin Gill on piano accordion and his sound system overcame any noise. At the same time John Fennell was teaching set dancing to around fifty kids, forty girls and ten boys, in the Community Centre behind the hotel. John taught them the basics and I was impressed that he took time with every child to make sure they all did the step correctly.
Set dancing competitions ran for the whole day in the Tinteán Theatre and were a great success. Forty sets entered to compete and by the end of the day all of the theatre's 550 seats were filled and over 100 spectators were standing. When I stopped by in the afternoon, Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan were supplying an unlimited selection of their impeccable reels for one team after another, most of whom were dancing a couple of figures of the Caledonian Set.
The day's dancing programme included an afternoon ceili in the marquee with a pair of ceili bands. On first was the Four Courts Ceili Band with calling by Kerryman Milie Costello; they began with the Caledonian. During the two hours from 3 to 5pm the electricity went off a couple of times. After the second interruption Milie said if it happened again we'd have to stop because the sound equipment could be damaged, but all was well after that. Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh took over for the next two hours with MC Paddy Hanafin; they also began with the Caledonian! We stopped dancing during the last half hour for some dance demonstrations by the champion Glenflesk set dancers from Kerry (first prize winners in both the senior ladies and senior mixed sets, the two top competitions of the day) and solo dancers Michael O'Rourke, Ciara Gill, Aidan Vaughan, Gerard Butler, John Cassidy and Donal Morrissey. Then a third of the 200 members of the Hell for Leather troupe from west Clare performed pieces from the show to great acclaim by all who were watching. At one point there were about sixty dancers pounding the floor when the music suddenly stopped. I assumed the electricity had gone again, but no, Micheál and Pat had paused deliberately for dramatic effect and to emphasise the battering.
There was handy parking at the theatre for most of the week, but today it was closed to vehicles, as was the main street and the little side streets where I'd been leaving my car. I couldn't even leave the car outside the flat I rented for the week, so chanced leaving it in a nearby empty field for the weekend and walked everywhere. A friendly local fellow minded the barrier blocking vehicular access to the theatre; he liked nothing better than chatting to dancers on their way to the ceili. I found the theatre lobby busy with dancers when I arrived for Matt Cunningham's ceili. His music was bright and lively and the dancers' enjoyment was reflected on all their faces. It's hard to pick my set of the week but I think I danced it tonight. My partner for the Lancers was a lady with an infectious beaming smile who gets just a little bit overexcited whenever she's dancing, as I do too, and together we multiplied our pleasure.
Sunday 20 August
Today was the only day of the week I was able to lie in and catch a bit more sleep. No workshops to get up early for; the first dancing was at 3pm. So after a late breakfast I wandered the town, cliffs and beach. I enjoyed watching children interact with a mime artist posing as a statue and bought a kilo of veggies from an organic food stall. Just before the afternoon ceili I marvelled at a band participating in the marching band competition in the theatre car park. The three competing bands travelled all the way from Donegal.
At the same time there were music competitions in the theatre, a big concert in town and a ceili in the marquee with Matt Cunningham, who began the dancing right on time with the Connemara Set. However, after the first figure MC Mary Philpott asked us to wait a few minutes for the end of the marching band competition-the ceili music was a distraction for the judges. We happily sat and chatted a while and continued the set with renewed enthusiasm as soon as we received the all-clear signal. After a couple hours of delightful music and dancing, we took a break for a stunning display of sean nós dancing the like of which I hadn't seen before. Several dancers from Connemara had been invited to perform and it was my first time seeing most of them. First out were two brothers, Patrick and Gerard Devane, followed by Seosamh Ó Neachtain, Róisín Ní Mhainín and five members of the Cunningham family. In all their dancing they carried themselves with a natural ease and the footwork was both subtle and powerful. Senior sean nós competition winner Edwina Guckian from Co Leitrim also took the floor for an equally impressive performance.
Tonight's ceili began two hours earlier than usual so that it would be over in time for closing events of the World Fleadh. There was already a strong buzz in the theatre foyer before the marquee doors were even open. Gerard and Patrick Devane were still showing their remarkable steps, accompanied by brother Colin on accordion. When the crowd moved into the marquee, some of them brought their chairs forward onto the floor to sit closer to the dancing, which also kept the sets from spreading out over the spacious floor. The Abbey Ceili Band were a great choice for the closing ceili as they sent us on our way home on a set dancing high, and Timmy Woulfe chose the night's selection of sets. Halfway through the ceili, Mary Philpott addressed the ceili with her thanks to the dancers, and they warmly applauded her work in making the week's dancing so successful. She also held a stack of tickets for the closing ceremony, which were freely offered to anyone interested in attending. There was an unusual dance display tonight-Timmy asked Seamus Melvin from Ballina, Co Mayo, to show his jiving technique. He began normally with one partner; she left him and was then replaced by two more partners, one on each hand. Seamus cleverly handled each of the ladies independently.
After the ceili I made my way across town to the closing ceremony. On the way I was stopped in my tracks by a riveting display of fireworks at midnight. By the time I arrived at the Atlantic Stage no one was checking tickets. The stage was set in a fenced and gravelled yard beside the cliff; food and drink vans surrounded the area. A big canopy sheltered the audience from rain, though it had been dry and even sunny today. I arrived in time to hear the Turloughmore Ceili Band celebrating their victory in the World Fleadh senior ceili band competition. The audience loved the music and some showed their approval by waving little electric candles (much safer than cigarette lighters) over their heads. The Devane brothers danced out in front of the stage for the band's final set of tunes. More music followed from a traditional group and there was a modern step danceperformance to finish.
Monday 21 August
Bright sunshine and blue skies were scarce this week, but reappeared today for the fleadh's final event. A farewell ceili took place in the Golf Hotel disCo this afternoon, with music by the Five Counties Ceili Band from Co Cork. This was my first time hearing the ten young musicians. Their music is fun and full of life and immediately makes me feel like dancing, even after a long week of it. The advertising for this ceili was kept to a minimum so not many dancers knew about it. Only two sets took the floor but the doors were open so numerous people dropped in from the street to watch. Once it was over my most enjoyable week at the World Fleadh was complete and I headed home content and satisfied.
Pat Murphy was the teacher at Toronto's third annual Reel Blast set dancing weekend from June 2 to 4, 2006, which drew visitors from Michigan, Kentucky, New York State, Ottawa, Windsor and Halifax, among other places.
The weekend started out with a ceili danced to the high energy music of the Celtic Ceili Crew. The ceilis took place in the hall of Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church. The hall has a superb sprung wooden floor, which our group has enjoyed for at least a decade. A portion of the proceeds from our ceilis is donated towards the church on a regular basis.
On Saturday, Pat taught us several sets using his usual easy going, quiet method. The Caragh Lake, the Dromgarriff Half-Set, and the Fermanagh were enjoyed by all. At lunch, the hungry dancers ventured out into some very Irish weather! Strangely enough we were grateful for the rain because it kept the weather lovely and cool for dancing.
We enjoyed dancing to Inishowen Ceili Band on Saturday night. This is Toronto's most established ceili band who we have enjoyed ever since any of us started dancing.
On Sunday afternoon a new band to our weekend graced the stage, the Cabbagetown Ceilidh Band. They are named after a historic neighbourhood in Toronto where the earliest Irish settlers lived. They had a very special guest as well. Pat Murphy played a set for us on Pat Simmond's box to the delight of the crowd!
Pat's wonderful hosts, Chris Aston and Jane Adams, held a farewell party on Sunday night with a session (again Pat graced us with his music on a borrowed box) and some sets that went into the wee hours of the morning. Pat even taught us some delightful two-hand dances!
On his way home, at the airport in Toronto, Pat met his most interesting dance partner, who kindly posed for the camera, indeed proving that even the Mounties in Canada dance!
Lisa MacDonald, Toronto, Ontario
The quiet little village of Labasheeda, Co Clare, wouldn't be familiar to many people in Ireland, but to set dancers it ranks as one of the most famous places in the world. The Labasheeda Set is one of the more popular ones danced at ceilis-not in the top ten perhaps, but certainly in the top fifteen! And for those of us who have had the pleasure of attending the Dan Furey Weekend, we'll always remember Labasheeda for the beauty of its Shannonside setting, the warmth of the local people and the fantastic music and dancing on the first weekend in September.
Close to ten o'clock on Friday, September 1st, we were welcomed to Labasheeda at the opening ceremony officiated by Anthony Daly, former manager of the Clare hurling team. Michael and Céline Tubridy, who always had attended the weekend, were unable to come this year but were fondly remembered when three of their friends danced the Priest and His Boots, the solo jig they taught here every year. Then it was over to the Glenside Ceili Band and the Corofin Plain Set. The hall was full from the first figure and a couple of pioneering sets had already occupied the adjacent Long Isle, a slightly bigger hall where the bar was located. During the next set, I noticed we had generated a haze of dust that hung overhead, but this soon cleared when the doors were opened to cool down the overheating dancers. After that, I ventured into the Long Aisle where the air was refreshingly cool and the floor was easier to dance on. Even though you couldn't see the band there, a nice little atmosphere developed once six or so sets had arrived. The battering overpowered the music during the Plain Set but the strong rhythm from hundreds of feet kept us all on track. You couldn't miss a single note in the main hall. The band paused the dancing in the second half and invited sean nós dancers to give us a few steps, but despite the presence of several well-known steppers, only one was brave enough to face the crowd. The amiable lads of the Glenside brought along a substitute on banjo, Johnny Duffy, who kept a smile on his face all night. The musicians were enjoying themselves enough to give us an extra rake of reels after the final Connemara Set.
With Michael and Céline away, it fell to Noel Devery from Tullamore, Co Offaly, to give us practice in the Priest and His Boots at a workshop on Saturday morning in the National School. Whenever I have the opportunity I like to attend workshops on this dance, once or twice a year, as it's the only practice I get on it. I noticed that most of the dozen or so dancers in the class also had some knowledge of it, even a couple from Japan on their first trip to Ireland. The only true beginners were two Tipperary ladies and they had little trouble picking it up. Noel was easy to follow and made the session most enjoyable. He was fond of making us practice to rather fast music but by the end I found I could nearly do it at that speed. I was sorry to miss Mike Mahony's class at the same time in the hall. At lunch after class I sat with seven of his regular supporters, all ladies, who said they danced the Labasheeda and Cúchulainn sets and the Peeler and the Goat. The discussion then turned to shoes and the sizes mentioned ranged from one to nine! That range would have spread even wider if I hadn't kept quiet about my own.
This year instead of a workshop on Saturday afternoon we had an extra ceili, which filled the main hall with more dancers than a workshop would have done. Micheál Sexton was proudly showing off his new accordion, a compact little Castagnari, and gave it a superb workout during the ceili. Pat Walsh accompanied him on piano as usual, and accompanying Pat in the hall were his wife Lorraine and three-year-old daughter Aislinn. I noticed a clever little twist in Micheál's tunes-he occasionally changes key in the midst of a tune, not at its conclusion, which always jumped out at me whenever I heard it.
The afternoon was warm and our dancing seemed to double the temperature. In one set I was dancing at the back of the hall; my partner liked dancing here because there was a nice breeze whenever someone went into or came out of the gents' toilet beside us. To keep the breeze flowing continuously she used one of her street shoes to wedge the door open. Halfway through the ceili more breezes brought the aroma of roasting flesh through the hall-the barbecue was underway outside! I rested during the final Lancers Set but for the last figure a lady asked me to join her as the fifth couple in a set.
"It doesn't matter if there's an extra couple in this figure," she said.
It matters a bit when I found the next gent swinging my partner halfway through the chain! With an extra lady to chain past I found the timing worked better if I dispensed with that swing. By the end of the ceili, Micheál and Pat had given us nine sets, including the first Labasheeda of the weekend and the Sliabh Luachra.
Labasheeda is the kind of town where you'll sometimes find a goat wandering the street, as I discovered that evening. I spotted him (or her) heading out of town, clearly keeping a good distance from the barbecue and hungry dancers.
When there's a big ceili in St Kieran's Hall, the floor fills tightly from wall to wall-this was the case at every ceili so far and especially so with the huge crowd dancing to the Abbey Ceili Band on Saturday night. Anyone entering the hall or going to the bar had to squeeze through the non-existent gap between frenetic dancers and stationary spectators in their seats. I was surprised a couple of times by an extra person in the middle of my set, taking a shortcut. Close to twenty sets fitted into the main hall, and I counted a dozen dancing tonight in the Long Aisle. Toward the end of the night it became even more crowded here than in the main hall as the dancers took advantage of the cooler conditions and frictionless floor. In addition, all the ceilis were popular with non-dancing locals who took full advantage of the bar, so tonight there wasn't much room to spare at that end of the Long Aisle.
The Abbey kept us flying with superb music. The three regular members, Ger Murphy, Andy O'Connell and John Coakley, were joined by Ralph Morgan, the banjo player with the Star of Munster Ceili Band who was filling in tonight. I'm amazed by the dancing we're capable of when the music, partner and atmosphere are all perfection. The Ballyvourney Jig flowed like clockwork even with all the spinning and lepping my partner and I were putting into it. It's fantastic how dancing lets you express your pleasure with your entire body. In the Corofin, I love the 'eyeball' move when partners dance around each other, especially when my partner isn't shy about returning my gaze; when that happens I'll keep eyeballing her throughout the set. During the Lancers I noticed a couple of sets gleefully dancing the 'train' in the second figure. They call it 'messing' when you let yourself go and dance your own moves in the sets; but if this was any other type of dance it would be called 'improvisation' or 'choreography'! There was a West Kerry Set with the figures explained to all in advance by Timmy Woulfe, the only bit of calling all weekend. The band sent us home on a high state of excitement with the final Connemara and double dose of the Tamlin-the second time in a higher key.
Sunday is rather special at the Dan Furey Weekend. There's a memorial at the graves of Dan and his friend James Keane, both of whom are fondly recalled as dance masters. Then we drove down a long cul-de-sac ending at the River Shannon, parked the cars in a field, scrambled over a bit of the shore and walked across a pasture recently vacated by cattle. This brought us to Battery Castle for a unique little session in a special location. The castle is a British fort built during the time of Napoleon which was never used for its defensive purpose as the great man was defeated before the fort was completed. The building was long out of use when the Irish government sold it to Barney Moloney, who owned the adjoining farm, for £150 in 1973.
"It's worth at least three times that now," said Martin Fitzpatrick, Barney's son-in-law, who gave a brief historical introduction, which Barney used to do himself before his death in 2003. It might seem an unlikely place for music and dancing, but it's claimed that the soldiers danced quadrilles here with the locals many years ago. We danced the Caledonian and Labasheeda sets today thanks to a good floor installed twenty years ago and to music by a group from the nearby village of Kilmurry-McMahon. There were songs, a recitation, a couple of brush dances and the Priest and His Boots, which I attempted in public for the first time, though at the back of the room as inconspicuously as possible.
When I returned to the village just before the afternoon ceili the street was full of people who had just enjoyed the annual parade and a set competition on an outdoor platform. The barbecue was beginning too, but the only place for set dancers at this time was inside dancing to Johnny Reidy. While dancing the first set I met one friend just arriving and quickly asked her for the next set, but she was already booked. When I met her later she could only offer me the sixth set! I caught the eye of another potential partner but she just shook her head at me. When I spoke to her later she said she had no free sets at all! Luckily there was no shortage of lovely dancers to keep me going all afternoon.
This was the afternoon of the hurling final and so a television was installed in the far end of the Long Aisle for the locals following the match. With Johnny's music broadcasting on two speakers and hundreds of battering dancers, the TV was hardly audible. One sports fan tried to reposition one of the band's speakers to improve TV reception but it was soon turned back toward the dancers who needed to hear every note from Johnny's box. Eddie Lee of the band made regular announcements of the score to keep everyone informed. After the final Plain Set there were cheers for more but the band had given their all for eight sets and a waltz so it was time for the national anthem.
The dancing kept going in Labasheeda till the small hours of Monday morning. Matt Cunningham played for the final ceili on Sunday night, which is less crowded and more relaxed than the bigger ceilis of the weekend. This is how the locals like their dancing and Matt gave them two Caledonians and plenty of waltzes and jives. A few visitors had stayed and we had enough sets to keep us happy. With only about eight sets in total the space in the hall seemed luxurious and most of the atmosphere from the previous ceilis lingered on. It was a lovely way to wind down after another beautiful Dan Furey Weekend in Labasheeda.
It was Sunday 23rd July. Temperatures soared up to the high twenties. The sea was shimmering like silk. The seafront was crowded. The music was magic. Where were we? On Bray, Co Wicklow, seafront for our third annual set dancing marathon.
We started at 10am, equipped with litres of water, sun screen and hats. The heat increased as morning faded into afternoon but the set dancers never wavered. We danced set after set to the mighty music of the Brian Ború Ceili Band. We had a large number of local set dancers with visitors from Waterford, Wexford, Clare, Kildare, Carlow and Dublin. We danced on the bandstand on the seafront overlooking the sea with views of Howth on one side and Greystones on the other. What a wonderful setting! We got a running commentary on the hurling matches from Joe Hughes of Brian Ború who was picking it up on the radio and all the Clare and Waterford dancers were ecstatic with their wins.
We danced a variety of twenty sets during the day. The dancers went home with sore feet, sunburnt arms, and for anyone with receding hairlines and who didn't wear a hat, a burnt scalp! We finished dancing at 6pm after eight hours of non-stop set dancing.
It was a magical day. All proceeds will go to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. I would like to thank everybody who supported this event and we look forward to another set dancing marathon in Bray in 2007.
Carmel Kearns, North Wicklow Set Dancers, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow
Having brought their tour to Asia and Australia, the Turloughmore Ceili Band returned to the States again. The band had been here in February promoting their new CD Seven Streams when some of their dates were cancelled due to bad weather. A band with more air miles than the Minister for Foreign Affairs, they arrived in New York during one of the hottest weeks of the summer with temperatures well into the 100 degree range. This was very different from the freezing temperatures that they had experienced earlier in the year.
The tour kicked off in Mineola, Long Island, at the Irish-American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens. This is one of the largest venues on Long Island and was the ideal location for the Turloughmore to restart their tour. It is also home to the local Mulligan-Quinn branch of Comhaltas that helped enormously with the ceili that night. The centre is very popular with many visiting Irish artists and later this year it will host the annual Echoes of Erin Comhaltas tour. The Turloughmore was given a warm welcome by Mike Quinn, a native of Tulla and now the current president of the Irish-American Society.
Regularly scheduled monthly ceilis are cancelled for the summer months due to the heat, and August being the driest season of them all was the perfect time to have the Turloughmore return. Trips to the beach and weekend getaways were put on hold when it was made known that the band was returning. It was a night not to be missed and would also be the last ceili that people could attend before regular ceilis would resume in mid September. Soaring temperatures outside were no match for the well air-conditioned hall inside where set dancers beamed as the Turloughmore started the night. The floor was full for every set and seats were full of people that had come just to hear and enjoy the music. It was a time to satisfy one's curiosity as there had been much talk about this band since their visit in February. At intermission Heidi Liddy and Catriona Furlong danced a reel while everybody refueled and prepared themselves for the second half of the night. Exhausted and soaked with enjoyment at the end, the crowd cheered and applauded for the band just like a crowd would applaud for medaled athletes at the Olympics. They had got what they waited for and if that wasn't enough there was a second chance for another ration of Clare music at the Kerry Hall later that week.
From New York it was now time for the band to go back to Philadelphia to play some more dates. There was plenty of relaxation between gigs on this tour to compensate for the polar bear conditions the last time that they were in Philadelphia. Sipping cocktails and lounging by the pool for hours, even a trip to the Amish country! All necessary and the chosen remedy for a successful tour.
There was much preparation in New York as we awaited the return of the Turloughmore to play for another ceili at the Kerry Hall, where by now they are no strangers. They were delighted to be back on familiar ground which was the highlight of their tour only a few months ago. Closer to the crowd and in fine form, the band played to yet another packed hall. Familiar faces filled the hall as they were back for another night of dancing and what a great complaint it was to have! The music brought back fond memories to people who hadn't heard music like this since their childhood in Ireland and in some cases brought a tear to their eye. The tour was a huge success and we will always look forward to having them back again.
After returning home from the States, the Turloughmore went on to win the senior ceili band competition at the World Fleadh that was held in Ballybunion, Co Kerry. They played to a crowd of almost 4,000 people upon being crowned world champions. A title well earned for such brilliant musicians!
Fergal O'Halloran, Bronx, New York
In February 2006 we were invited by the Tir na Nóg dancing guild in Belgium to perform Irish set dancing at their festival in September 9th, 10th and 11th, 2006. Word quickly spread around about it, but alas we had to limit the number of dancers to sixteen. As it was the first time flying for many of us, passports were arranged and the excitement was mounting as the time was drawing close. A bus was hired to take us to Shannon so we flew with Ryanair to Charleroi.
We were met at the airport by our host families who quickly sped us down the motorway to Kampenhout, the village where the festival was taking place. We met the mayor first, then were seated at our table in the marquee which was covered in green, white and gold for Ireland. We were introduced to the audience at 10.30pm and performed the Connemara Set and the Ballyvourney Jig Set. As each country was only allocated 30 minutes we had to keep it short.
On Saturday we had a tour of Brussels and shopping, then back for more dancing. We also did the Siege of Ennis. On Sunday we had a stall at the village trade fair to promote Ireland and it generated a lot of interest from the passing crowds. In the afternoon we were back again performing for the packed audience in the marquee. We danced two sets again as our time was limited. Then our leader Frances invited members of the audience on stage with us to dance the Siege of Ennis. We were pleasantly surprised to see them come and join us immediately. Even though the majority of them had no English, the music and dancing made us all equal and broke down all barriers.
Alas it was time to end and prepare to come home. We tearfully said our goodbyes having invited our host families to visit us and promised them a good time in Kerry. Then we sped off to the airport exhausted but delighted to have had the amazing experience of our first weekend abroad. Long live Irish set dancing and the many pleasures it brings to so many people around the world.
Eileen O'Shea, Lauragh Set Dancing Club, Lauragh, Killarney, Co Kerry
I am a fellow set dancer from Argentina. I lived in Ireland for four years and returned to my home country two years ago. My idea was always to start teaching set dancing here, as I knew I wasn't going to be able to dance it myself if I cannot find at least a few people to do it with me.
After two years, things are starting to move on the right way. I set up my own class in a pub in my city once a week. The classes are free, but still I don't have too many students. I will give people more time to find out about the classes.
Also we are organising workshops in Buenos Aires once or twice a month. We were nine people at the first one on the 12th of August and we were twelve on the 26th. I am really happy, and I think the rest are very glad they are doing it. It was a bit strange at the beginning, trying to explain the 1-2-3 step and dance at home and house around, as they didn't seem to see the fun in it, but when we got to dance the first figure of the Plain Set everybody understood what was going on. Not to mention they went ballistic on the fifth figure with the gallop. They loved it! Next workshop, apart from practising the Plain Set, I will start teaching the Corofin, one of my favourites, as the music to it is lovely. We will also be able to have a live band in the classes soon. They are practising the sets as we speak! And soon there will be the first Argentinian ceili (fingers crossed)!
I would also like to point out that the very Secretary of the Irish Embassy in Argentina is attending the workshops and that we have full support from the embassy for these workshops. Argentina has a quite large Irish community, but the only dance they practice is step dance, which is also very hard for them to keep up due to the lack of teachers, being a much tougher discipline.
Anyway, I am proud to say that I am the first Irish set dancing teacher (to my knowledge) in Argentina! As for now, if any crazy set dancer wants to come to us, the best thing is to contact me and I will let them know when the next meeting is.
I won't take any more of your time, just wanted to share this news with you and the rest of the set dancers, my good friends.
Roxana Farina, La Plata, Argentina
As far as I know Roxana Farina is the first set dancing teacher in the whole of South America. Her class is listed under Argentina on the page of classes in Europe and Elsewhere.
Spreading our wingsDear Bill,
Just a note on behalf of the three of us in the Copperplate to thank you again for the feature in the Set Dancing News. It looked and read very, very well and we have been getting favourable comments about it since. The phone is ringing often and we are spreading our wings across Ireland like wildfire. Long may it last!
Heartfelt thanks again, your help is invaluable.
Eamonn Donnelly, Carrickmore, Co Tyrone
Reel Blast thanksDear Bill,
The organizing committee of the Toronto set dancing weekend, Jennifer Hiett, Daithi Logue, Greg and Maria Debkowski, Deirdre Keleher, Lisa MacDonald, Pat Mahony, Joan Pitre, Wilfred Gaube and Angela Bontje, would like to thank our guests for making our third annual weekend a great success. We extend special thanks to those participants who travelled from great distances to dance with us. We hope to see everyone again for the Reel Blast Set Dancing Weekend from June 1 to 3, 2007, with Pat Murphy honouring us once again!
Lisa MacDonald, Toronto, Ontario
Éigse Mrs Crotty has come around again once more,
Open air dancing and a wooden floor.
The town of Kilrush was the venue,
And from Wednesday till Sunday did this festival continue.
There were sessions in the pub, sessions in the street.
Eigse Mrs Crotty is the place to meet.
There were set dancers there of every age.
Michael Sexton and Pat Walsh were the first band on stage.
From 7 till 9.30 this band gave their best,
Lots of dancing and little rest.
The music was melodious, sweet and clear.
Mary Clancy called the sets again this year.
At organising dancers she has the knack
And for those not too sure she will keep on track.
There were sets, ceili dancing and old time waltzes too.
As regards keeping track of them all, I never kept note,
But I know the youngsters enjoyed the Peeler and Goat.
Wednesday now finished and four to go.
The Glenside Band on Thursday stole the show.
A good set dancing band from Longford town,
Very much in demand and of high renown.
Between the sets there was little pause,
And at the end of the ceili they had great applause.
Friday, it was the Four Courts, they were there,
Another good ceili band from Co Clare.
To the Caledonian, the Plain, the Kilfenora and Clare Lancers,
The floor took a battering from the dancers
On Saturday the Abbey Ceili Band gave a great display.
Their music was brilliant and for many sets did they play.
With Cork in the All-Ireland and the prospects of three in a row,
They certainly made that music go.
The Mazurka was danced, it was taught that day.
A few gates never opened and closed did stay.
It is now Sunday the very last day alas.
Festivities began soon after Mass.
The Five Counties, a young ceili band, were playing in the square,
And many dancers were also there.
Despite drizzle and the odd shower
The dancing and music continued for many an hour.
The Kilfenora were the last band to come on stage
And there were spectators and dancers of every age.
All Ireland Champions many a time,
Their music that Sunday was sublime.
It reflected on the dancers who despite the rain
Continued dancing to that sweet refrain.
Before I finish this I must say,
Only for Mrs Crotty there would be no Éigse day.
A talented musician from Kilrush town,
Whose ability with a concertina brought her great renown.
She now looks down from Heaven above,
And for Irish music she had great love.
She used to own the pub in the square,
And for many a set did she play in there.
This festival was five days of delight,
Enjoyed by all, day and night.
I now must end and finish here.
Please God we will enjoy Éigse Mrs Crotty again next year.
Seamus Garry, Bristol, England
These three dance cards offer a fascinating glimpse at what members of Cork City dance clubs were dancing at their balls in 1916, 1919 and 1922. Two sets for four couples, the Quadrilles and Lancers, are included in each programme. The cards were preserved by Phyllis McIntosh, the daughter of Paddy Keane, who is credited as honourable secretary on two of them. Phyllis keeps the cards in a scrapbook and showed them to her cousin Pat Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick, who supplied them for reproduction.
As a tribute to Donncha Ó Muíneacháin, the Dublin-based dancer and teacher who died in January 2005, a group of his friends are inviting teachers and organisers to hold ceilis in his honour next year. The group, which includes teachers Brian Doyle and Mary Murphy, are hoping that ceilis will be organised across Ireland and around the world wherever Donncha's influence is still alive.
They would like to coordinate the ceilis if possible so that they take place in March, ideally on weekend including Saturday the 24th, when the Dublin ceili is to be held in Naomh Meanóg GAA Club, Portmarnock, Co Dublin. The commemorative ceilis will include set and ceili dancing, and at the stroke of midnight, the group hopes that everyone at all the ceilis around the world will dance a selection of two-hand dances.
Donncha was a tireless promoter of dancing who taught several weekly classes, travelled the world to give workshops, organised countless ceilis and devoted his life to Irish culture. He was a life-long and gifted step dancer, originally from Co Cork, who had his own extraordinary and unforgettable style. He enjoyed all types of Irish traditional dance, step, sets, ceili and two-hands. On the day of his death he was making arrangements for an upcoming ceili; he was only 57.
Donncha raised vast amounts of money for charity through his events and activities, and the group of his friends suggest the proceeds from commemorative ceilis should be donated to a local hospice.
Those intending to hold a ceili for Donncha are asked to pass on the details to Brian Doyle and Mary Murphy. Don't forget to let Set Dancing News know as well!
New set CD from Catriona
Catriona O'Sullivan is a versatile young musician from Scartaglen, Co Kerry, who's equally at home with traditional and country music. She sings, plays accordion and provides accompaniment on piano and guitar. She's a popular favourite at local dances in her home county and is getting more notice from set dancers who enjoy her lively Kerry-style box playing. There's little time wasted when Catriona's playing for a set! Johnny Reidy is her neighbour, and not only do they share the same musical background, but Eddie Lee plays piano for both.
You can now dance to Catriona's music when and wherever you wish, thanks to a new CD launched in August. The disk is called Set Music from the Glen and includes what are probably the four most popular sets in Kerry these days - the Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, Connemara and Sliabh Luachra sets. There's also music for the Gay Gordons, Military Two-Step and a waltz. Accompaniment is provided by Eddie on piano and Paddy Taylor on drums.
This is Catronia's second CD. If you'd like to hear her other musical side, get Music in My Heart, a collection of country songs for dancing and listening.
Brian Ború Wedding
Congratulations are in order to Joe Hughes and Regina Lunny who married on August 11th in Artane with a reception in Sutton. Joe is the box player and manager of the Brian Ború Ceili Band based in Dublin.
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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