last updated 7 September 2007
Set Dancing News home page: www.setdancingnews.net

Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews - Volume 39

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

Donncha

A husband, a father, a brother, a son,
The pride of his family ne’er to return.
A prince among dancers with movement sublime,
The doyen of ceili goers housing in time.
A cultural icon to all who have gleaned
From his tireless endeavours in the cause of the Gael,
And achieved through our heritage, laudable aims,
That enriched us in spirit, while charities gained.
His classes of strangers became family groups,
Uniting in friendship and common pursuit
Of a wonderful pastime so wholesome in truth,
It transported some dancers right back to their youth.
And now that he’s left us so sad and bereft,
Like sheep without shepherd stalled in a cleft,
We must strive in his honour to dance while we can
And extol his great virtue throughout our land.
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.

Willie Lawlor, Finglas, Dublin 11


Mary Jo Commins

For many years Mary Jo travelled to all the ceilis in the midlands chauffeured by Jimmy Casey. She did not dance but knew all the ceili-goers. She loved to chat and have a laugh with them all. She looked forward to the weekends going with Jimmy and his gang. About two weeks before her death she was in Cullion and she booked Davy Joe Fallon and Carousel Ceili Band to play at her graveside. Little did he think it would be so soon. She was a great age, 84 years. She got her wish—Davy Joe and friends gave her a great send-off with lots of music at her graveside.

Sincere sympathy to her family, relations and set dancing friends.

May she rest in peace

From all her ceili friends

Patsy Finn, Ballymahon, Co Westmeath


New Orleans and The Storm

A typical Friday night ceili at O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub in New Orleans’s French Quarter—maybe the turnout was even a bit above normal. We had our usual assortment of musicians to support us, anchored by stalwart flute and fiddle player Richie Stafford. The mood was quite lively and the pub was a bit more crowded than what we had come to expect in recent years. Always a good thing, as my experience has been that a crowded room always raises the energy of the musicians and the dancers. The cast of a local staging of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Innishmaan was also in attendance and quite interested in the dancing as well. It was late summer in New Orleans, which always ensures two things: hot, steamy weather, and the chance that a tropical storm is either headed across the Atlantic or actually inside the Gulf of Mexico. The latter was the case on this night with a hurricane whose latest projected path had it hitting the Florida panhandle late Sunday or early Monday.

Sometime late that night some of our dancers started noticing that the latest predicted storm track had been updated. It was now directly centered on the city of New Orleans. This was a change in path of over two hundred miles, something that was unprecedented. Of course this was a rather ominous turn of events, but as anyone who has lived in New Orleans long enough knows, many storms have been projected to hit the city, but for the last direct hit one needs to go back to 1965 and Hurricane Betsy. As usual the dancing continued until well past one in the morning. At the end of the night as people filtered out the door for home, farewells and hugs were exchanged. No one was entertaining any serious doubt, however, that we would not be seeing each other again at Tuesday’s regular dance class. There were of course the off-hand comments to be sure to check the weather.

The aforementioned Friday was the 26th of August 2005. The storm path projected that night held true and the result was the now infamous Hurricane Katrina. In the next 48 hours, virtually everyone from our Irish dance community realized this storm wasn’t going to make the all too common last minute diversion and spare the city its brunt. Plans were made and everyone ‘got the hell out of Dodge.’ The devastation played out on virtually every television network with a news or weather interest, virtually non-stop, round the clock coverage. Our dance community watched along with the vast majority of the country and a large part of the world. We watched from the relative safety of friends’ and families’ homes, and hotel rooms. It was all rather overwhelming and surreal. Everywhere you turned there was information about this catastrophe that just kept unfolding and getting progressively worse, and yet no amount of information ever seemed to be enough.

During our collective exile the nominal leader of our dance group, Noel Reid, started collecting emails from everyone. He then posted updates providing everyone with information on where everyone was and how they were doing. It was so reassuring to receive confirmation that, in spite of all the destruction to our beloved city and homes, everyone was safe, somewhere. We ended up scattered literally across the entire country.

In the first few weeks some members whose homes were outside the city proper were able to return. Then soon after this some of the residents of the suburbs were able to return. It was close to six weeks, however, before the residents of the city were permitted to return just to examine what damage they had suffered. But even those who suffered minor damage would not see anything approaching normalcy for quite some months. As was well documented on the news, infrastructure that one normally takes for granted was nowhere near back to normal. Our dance community, like the city as a whole, spanned the full spectrum of circumstances, from virtually no damage to having one’s entire home ripped from the foundation and deposited elsewhere in pieces.

As people filtered back we started sharing our stories, initially by email, phone, meetings planned and impromptu. Sharing was the important thing. In our exile we had shared with loved ones and strangers alike. Of course everyone outside of the affected area was curious to try and understand what we were going through. These feelings of empathy were much appreciated, but actual healing couldn’t begin until we could return home, actually observe the condition of the city we called home, and share with our neighbours, those who were in our same situation.

At the end of October we held our first post-storm event, a house ceili at the home of a couple of our dancers living in the suburbs. It was the first time that many of us who were back had an opportunity to see each other. Many came who were still displaced, either by lack of living accommodations or by the need to keep their children enrolled in school as the New Orleans schools were not yet up and running. Practically everyone within driving distance made the trip. Just seeing those familiar faces was wonderful. Our normal hugs of greeting were often prolonged. After the exchange of so many stories, both good and bad, and some snacks, the music started. And now, maybe for only intermittent moments, one could actually let go of all the destruction outside.

In November Irish dance classes in New Orleans recommenced, albeit with a relatively small group. The house ceili made it apparent that although everyone’s schedules continued to be unnaturally busy and stressful, a couple hours of dancing a week, if only to escape, was needed—a small piece of normalcy to all our lives that were suddenly so different and with so many new priorities. The first night had less than a full set, but there seemed to be no question to anyone in our group that we would eventually return to Irish dancing. The first minor obstacle was that our old venue, a church fellowship hall, was no longer available as they had suffered a lot of water damage in the storm. Another space was quickly found, a church fellowship hall again. Unfortunately, after only a few weeks there we were displaced again so that the church could provide housing to relief workers. The following few weeks’ dance classes were held at the home of one of our members. Eventually we were able to secure a space at a ballet dance studio, which is where we continue to meet.

Around this same time we were contacted by a city group and asked to participate in the city’s annual Christmas carnival, Christmas in the Oaks. This would be the first large citywide event since the storm. For many this marked the first tangible sign that the city, the community, was coming back. The event goes on for many nights leading up to Christmas with different performers representing groups from all over the city each night. We were asked to perform on Thursday the 22nd of December. Our dance classes became rehearsals for this event and members looked forward to this one small step back to normalcy. For many it was reassuring to participate in this event and also see the good turnout from our group as well as a good turnout of the city’s returning residents attending the event.

Getting back to having regular ceilis would take a bit longer as so much of the city’s landscape had been damaged, changed, or destroyed. O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub in the French Quarter, which had been hosting ceilis almost since its doors had first opened twenty years ago, would not be reopening. Mick’s Irish Pub in the Mid-City neighbourhood, the site of numerous ceilis and also host to the majority of the visiting set dance teacher workshops over the past five or so years, had flooded and suffered major water damage. It was finally able to re-open with a completely remodeled bar area in March 2006 and we had our first ceili there in June. The Kerry Irish Pub in the French Quarter had long been home to nightly music, but had never been used by our group for a ceili. This was largely because its cobbled brick floor was not the most suitable to dancing. But in the city’s current state of disrepair one might have to be a little more forgiving. As was the case with the majority of locations in the French Quarter, the Kerry suffered little to no damage and was soon re-opened. A monthly session was established there starting in February 2006 and dancers were invited to come along as well and dance a few sets. On the brighter side, a new Irish pub opened in the French Quarter, Sean Kelly’s. The owner is dedicated to maintaining Irish culture. To this end he features live music almost nightly. Soon after establishing this he set to work getting a dance floor installed and our first ceili was held there this past December. In addition to this, our group has again hosted Patrick O’Dea for some workshops and both Timmy McCarthy and Tony Ryan will also soon be paying us visits.

Decidedly, things will never be the same in New Orleans, but at least for now the dance community here has reassembled. We lost a few members who decided for various reasons that it was time to move on from New Orleans. But we have also gained a number of new members, many who discovered our group through performances like the one for Christmas in the Oaks. All in all the total numbers are almost the same as seen before the storm, this in a city that currently has only half of its original population. So although some of the faces have changed, it is the same love of the music and dance that keeps us all going.

Debbie Cornett and Kirk Whitmer The authors: After living in New Orleans’ French Quarter for almost ten years, Kirk Whitmer is now living in Brest, France. He is currently continuing his Irish dancing in this the Celtic region of France, with the occasional Fest-Noz (Breton ceili) thrown in. Debbie Cornett continues to live just outside the city of New Orleans. She teaches the weekly set dancing classes as well as being a fixture on fiddle at all the local sessions.

Tornado strikes our area

Last February, Noel Reid wrote with news of another weather incident in New Orleans.

It was 3.20am when I was awakened by a high shrill noise with internal doors banging and glass breaking everywhere. It was pitch black and the power went out. So within a few minutes and to the sound of voices I dressed and went outside. I was astonished to see a house two doors away with the roof ripped off and laying on the house adjacent. The wall on the back had collapsed on two cars, to show bedrooms, beds where people had been sleeping just a few minutes earlier. As it got lighter we were able to see the full extent of the damage caused by a tornado which had just touched down. Four houses on Freret Street beside me and about four houses on Fern Street right behind me were destroyed and may have to be demolished. I was lucky with twenty windows broken, gable end roof damage, porch support columns down or dislodged, carport and all garden fencing blown away. Metal furniture that was on the front porch was found thirty yards away in the back garden. Many trees are down and one large one still standing with a split up the center about 10 foot long. It was very scary to think how close I had come to something more serious. I consider myself lucky considering the devastation so close to me and many of those houses having recovered with new roofs and major repairs of all kinds from Hurricane Katrina. I was without power for two days and have just had my cable connection back. A neighbor of mine who is a reporter for the local paper was up and about the morning of the storm and was asking how I fared. I told him what it sounded like in the black of night. I had a chest of drawers blown over the computer where I had been playing my fiddle the night before and had left the fiddle on the side. So when I told him the first thing I looked for was me fiddle, he thought that was very amusing and decided to print it.

So all is well that ends well, even though there is still a lot of repairs to do, I am very lucky.

Noel Reid

From the Times-Picayne newspaper report on February 13 by Jeff Duncan—

Just around the corner on Burdette Street, Noel Reid, 73, weathered the onslaught from his bedroom, located on the north side of his wooden shotgun double [a type of house common in the city].

“I heard the glass shattering and the walls started moving,” said Reid, a retiree who teaches Irish dancing at a neighborhood studio. “The first thing I looked for was me fiddle. I was glad to see it was okay.”

The exterior of Reid’s home didn’t fare so well. He found the large wooden porch swing twisted into the upper branches of the trees around his front deck. Three deck chairs sat in the side yard 30 yards away. Reid’s metal-and-wood carport was in splinters, its 6-inch-wide support beams snapped like matchsticks at the base. A towering tulip poplar tree in the back yard, which had survived Katrina, was split in two at the trunk. In the front yard, a 3-foot-long branch, 5 inches in diameter, had plunged into the earth like a lawn dart. “That’s amazing,” Reid said. “If that would’ve hit you, you’d have been dead.”


A beautiful sunny day in Zagreb

Hi Bill,

St Patrick’s Day came and went in Zagreb, and on a beautiful sunny day in twenty degrees the whole city came out to see what all the fuss was. What they were treated to was a nine-hour festival of live music, ceili, step and most importantly set dancing, and lots of it. The 36 members of the Croatian set dancers group called locally Irish Maiden danced their hearts out all day long finishing in a spectacular, all-in performance. It included a step dancer and figures from the Corofin, Ballyvourney Jig and Borlin sets.

After St Patricks Day a new beginners class began with an unbelievable 32 new dancers and if all stay the course for the next few months we will have over sixty set dancers!

Our thanks to Betty McCoy and Angela Bernard for showing us a few more steps while in Dublin recently.

So things are great and many of us look forward to seeing ye at the Willie Clancy Festival.

Regards,

Paul O'Grady, Zagreb, Croatia

The New Parliament House Jig

Hi Bill (and Celia Gaffney and Sabine Menzel),

The House of Parliament or Prime Minister’s Reel dance mentioned in the last two issues is actually an Australian dance called the New Parliament House Jig. It was written by John Colville for a dance composing competition held by the Sydney Bush Music Club in 1980. The story behind the dance and how the movements relate to politics can be found at www.australian-heritage-dance.com. Regards,

Rod Mattingley, Melbourne, Australia

Thanks, Rod, for identifying this dance, and to Fay and Morgan McAlinden, Port Fairy, Victoria, for emailing John Colville’s original instructions and music, a four-part jig which is included below.

Sabine’s instructions published in the last issue are correct, though the original makes clear the political connections of the dance. The nine dancers are arranged in a square with the Prime Minister in the centre; the other dancers represent the six Australian states and two territories. The movements are politics in action—

John Colville is a professional accordionist from Dundee, Scotland, who has lived in Australia for 35 years. He has composed one other dance but it hasn’t achieved the popularity of the New Parliament House Jig. Read more about John at his web site, johncolville.com.

The demise of the ceili dance

I am seriously concerned at the demise of the ceili dance in both London and Ireland. There is now only one weekly ceili left in London and that is at the London Irish Centre in Camden Town on Sunday nights. There is an abundance of set dancing which is very popular, but there is an obvious difference between the two cultures. There was a time when there was ceili in London four times a week.

So what can be done to bring back the ceili? There are a number of organisations who can help. The Irish Dancing Commission and their teachers must be able to teach ceili in order to pass their teaching certificate, but sadly after that ceili is forgotten. Why not teach the children and the adults the art of ceili which would be enjoyable for both. Why not reintroduce ceili competition for both children and adults back into the feiseanna? It would sadly appear that the only interest is money. All schools have their own competions but sadly no place for ceili. Some even teach set dancing—why not ceili? It is after all their tradition. There’s millions of pounds spent on wigs, make up, very expensive costumes and shoes.

Other organisations like the GAA, Gaelic League, Sinn Fein and Comhaltas can all play an effective part in promoting the art of the ceili dance instead of set dancing, which seems to be the case. I would also like to appeal to all who promote set dancing to advertise them as such and not as ceili. According to the adverts it would appear that there is an abundance of ceili dances in the London area. Ceili dancing has existed for just over one hundred years—don’t let it die. Why sacrifice one culture for another? Let me have your comments good or bad, even suggestions, ideas or help. One thing is certain and that is we need to involve the young people. Thanking you, yours truly,

Anton Coyle, London

There is no pleasure

Dear set dancers,

I started set dancing fifteen years ago and I thought it was lovely and very enjoyable, but lately I don’t enjoy all of the ceilis.

Why, you might ask.

Well, the dancing has changed so much, there are so many dancers clattering, banging, kicking the legs up high and swinging like a spinning top.

The bands have changed too. Sometimes we can have two musicians, an accordion player and a guitar player or a keyboard. In my mind a ceili band should have no less than three musicians, and if it includes a good drummer, all the better. Also, the bands are playing much too fast encouraging the wild style of dancing. Speed does not compensate for rhythm. There is no pleasure dancing a set like this.

If anybody reading this agrees with me, please have a word with the organisers of ceilis, or the fear an tí or bean an tí on the night. Thanking you, yours sincerely,

Nessa Fleming, Sandyford, Dublin 18

The most patient teacher

Dear Bill,

I’d like to make some comments about Donncha Ó Muíneacháin following the recent article. As was mentioned, he was a great supporter of the Irish language. Once Donncha found out that you had some Irish, he never spoke English to you again. It didn’t matter where you were or what the circumstances. He thought nothing of addressing my husband Ian Hughes and myself in Irish on the streets of Lorient in Brittany when we met at the Interceltic Festival many years ago. It was the same as we bumped into each other over the years in such places as Searsons and other dance venues in Dublin as well as Manchester and other parts of Britain.

I first met Donncha in 1977 when he was teaching ceili dancing at Gaeleagras, the organisation for the promotion of the use of Irish within the Civil Service. It was in the basement of their building at Merrion Square in Dublin and Donncha did all the teaching through Irish. As he well knew, this was a great way of improving your Irish as well as your dancing. He was the most patient teacher and treated everyone as an individual and with great respect. A great loss to the Irish language as well as dancing, not to mention his family and vast army of friends.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Many thanks and keep up the good work.

Ursula Byrne, Glandyfi, Wales

Extend my condolences

Dear Bill,

On behalf of our group I would like to thank most sincerely all the dancers who supported our memorial ceili for the late Maureen Boylan in Mells Parish Centre, Drogheda, Co Louth, on November 4th. We had a lovely Mass before the ceili read by Father Martin Kenny and followed by supper. So many people brought food we had to have a second supper to use it up. Many thanks to the dancers who were unable to come on the night but sent a donation.

As a result of the night we handed over €1300 to the cancer unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital—€900 from the ceili and a very generous donation of €400 from John McEvoy’s group in Sandpit where Maureen also danced.

I would also like to thank Set Dancing News for printing the lovely photos of our good friend Maureen and the kind remarks of another great friend, Patsy Finn.

I would also like to extend my condolences to the family and friends of the late Val Deane who was regarded by Timmy Woulfe as my twin. May they both rest in peace.

Watch out for our next Remember Maureen Ceili on the first weekend of November.

Many thanks,

Shay White, Staleen, Donore, Co Meath

Another dimension

Dear Bill,

Pompano Beach has to be set dancing heaven this year see below. Not only do we have our regular Friday night dances at St Nicholas Church and Sunday night dances in three alternating homes including mine, but Pete and Kathy Kelly have added another dimension to our opportunities to dance. On Mondays they teach dancing at their clubhouse and on Tuesdays they have set dance in their wonderful new hall. Pete and a friend laid a beautiful wooden floor covering their entire two-car garage. It’s raised up about four inches over the concrete, a rarity here in south Florida where everything is on concrete and tough on the hips, knees and feet. The Kellys also have an excellent sound system, fans, and an air conditioning unit. A Mass was held in their home to bless the house and new dance floor followed by dancing, of course. All the best to you.

Carol Hieronymus, Pompano Beach, Florida

Thank sincerely

Dear Bill,

The family of the late Kathleen (Kay) Cahill would like to thank sincerely all the set dancers who sympathised with them in their recent bereavement. Special thanks to the gangs at St Marks, St Anne’s, St Enda’s and Faugh’s, and others too numerous to mention.

Thank you all,

Chris Cahill, Tallaght, Dublin 24

Some fun with a new set

Bill,

An itinerant dance master came through Michigan this week and made a stop Monday night at the Gaelic League in Detroit for a special version of Anne McCallum’s weekly class. It’s always nice to see Patrick O’Dea because we always have some fun with a new set dance. This time we worked on the Connamara Jig Set (aka Foraer a Neaintín) which has to be just as much fun as the reel set and seems less tricky than the Claddagh Set (in particular, the third figure). There was a good turnout this night and we got two full sets. Jim O’Callahan, Frank Edgley and Dale Dahl provided live music which makes it even more special. And we couldn’t let Patrick get away without a few steps.

Bhí an oiche go hiontach!

David Braun, Ohio

A great achievement

Bill,

The Slievenamon group wish to thank all who attended our workshop weekend in January at the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin. Thanks to you it was once again a great success. On your behalf we have donated a further €6,000 to cancer care and research, bringing the total donated since the death of Connie Ryan in 1997 to €70,000. This is a great achievement considering we operate without any sponsorship. Sincere thanks to all.

Dates for the Mighty Weekend next year are 12th, 13th and 14th January.

Ann Grant, Foxrock, Co Dublin

Ye were brilliant!

Hi Bill,

Just a small note to thank everyone who made the journey to Tralee for the Shindig Festival in January. The Shindig weekend was once again a great success, with people travelling from all over the world to be with us. A special thank you to all the ceili bands—the Glenside, Swallow’s Tail, Johnny Reidy, the Michael Sexton–Pat Walsh duo, Taylor’s Cross and also Andy O’Connell. All of the bands played fantastic music over the weekend. A special thank you also to our teachers for the weekend, Pat Murphy, Róisín Ní Mhainín and Peter Hanrahan, as all did an excellent job. For all the people who danced, sang, told stories and played music at our sessions, I really want to be yer manager—ye were brilliant! Also a special thank you to you, Bill Lynch, as without your magazine it would be a lot harder to tell as many people about the Shindig Festival as we did. Next year the Shindig takes place in the Brandon Hotel, Tralee, on January 18th, 19th and 20th. Hope everyone comes back as it is going to be really special—it will be the fifteenth anniversary of the Shindig Festival in Tralee.

Cheers,

Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin

Omagh's delight

Dear Bill,

I write to express Omagh’s delight and a heartfelt thanks to all our dancing friends after the success of the recent workshop weekend in Dun Uladh Heritage Centre at the end of January. It was our biggest weekend ever and was made more special as a result of dancers making the trip to Omagh from across the Irish Sea. The variety of different accents, including Scottish, Northumbrian and Liverpudlian, as well as our own native dialects, made it a truly mixed cultural event.

I would like to thank all the dancers, the bands Copperplate, Swallow’s Tail and Brian Ború, Marie Garrity and all the Omagh Traditional Dancing Club committee for organising the whole weekend. A special word of thanks has to go to Pat Murphy, who has been coming to Omagh for the last ten years, since the passing of Connie Ryan. To mark this occasion, the Club presented him with a memento as a thank you for his continuing support of the Omagh workshop weekend.

One of our club members, Mary Ballesty, was undergoing treatment for cancer during the weekend and we decided to put Friday night’s ceili proceeds towards her nominated charity, Care for Cancer. Together with the proceeds of our ceili on 24th March, we will present a cheque to a representative of the charity at this ceili.

We look forward to seeing all our friends in Omagh from 25th to 27th January 2008.

Thanks,

Paul Cairns, Omagh, Co Tyrone

More than perfect

Bill,

I am writing to thank Mickey Kelly and all the gang for a great weekend in Newport, Co Mayo, 9-11 March. Myself and three friends travelled over from Manchester and we were made most welcome. The hotel and food were excellent, workshop and ceilis the best. On Sunday evening we had dancing, singing, storytelling and jokes in the bar. I have been coming to Ireland for many years but I have never had a night like it.

Next year the weekend will be in the Park Inn, Mulranny. Please be there; you will be sorry if you miss out.

On with the dance,

Eileen McGuire, Manchester

PS—To make the weekend more than perfect I also won the raffle—a week in Portugal!


News

Jig contest winner

The 2007 Chóilín Sheáin Dharach traditional jig contest was won by Patrick Devane, a young dancer from Aird Mhóir, Carna, in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He comes from a musical and dancing family and often dances with his brother Gerard to the music of his brother Colin on accordion. Last year he won the Oireachtas sean nós dancing competition.

The Chóilín Sheáin Dharach competion takes place in Rosmuc, Co Galway, on the last weekend in January each year and has been successful at reviving the art of the traditional sean nós jig. Chóilín Sheáin Dharach was a Connemara dancer and practitioner of this style who was the inspiration for the contest following his death in 2001. The contest rules require competitors to dance a jig—no reels—in ordinary dance shoes—no step dancing shoes.

The contest weekend also features sean nós dancing workshops, sessions and a junior jig contest.

News music from Eddie, Catriona and Danny

Eddie Lee and Catriona O’Sullivan, the versatile musical duo from Co Kerry, have issued a new CD of musical duets called Perfect Match. Eddie is well known to set dancers as the pianist for the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. At nearly every ceili he’ll sing a welcome selection of songs for waltzes and quicksteps. Catriona is a box player from Scartaglen who plays in the same lively Kerry style as her neighbour Johnny Reidy, and she’s a fine country singer as well. Together Eddie and Catriona can play whatever an occasion requires—trad, country, Irish and more. Look for them during Fleadh Ibiza and if you like country music, give a listen to their new CD.

Danny Webster is another versatile musician and a true one-man band who can make amazing music with his accordion. He’s a popular favourite at ceilis in his home territory of counties Tipperary and Kilkenny, and he’s equally skillfull playing and singing country music. His fame is spreading widely thanks to his participation in Fleadh Ibiza and other Enjoy Travel holiday packages.

Two CDs are newly available from Danny which will be of great interest to set dancers. Come Set Dancing to Danny Webster is a collection of interesting sets—the Cúchulainn, Sliabh Fraoch, Kilfenora and South Kerry. While those last two sets are familiar to many dancers, Danny is to be commended for being the first to record music for two recently introduced sets.

Danny’s second new CD, Danny Webster’s Two Hand Dances, does exactly what it days on the box. The collection of fifteen dances will provide many hours of fun with favourites like the Military Two-Step, Gay Gordons, Shoe the Donkey, Pride of Erin, Mississippi Dip, Breakaway Blues, Peeler and he Goat, St Bernard’s Waltz, and so on.

To get copies of the CDs, contact the artists directly by phone or at their ceilis.

Congratulations

Belated congratulations to Shauna Reilly and Gordon Doherty of Athboy, Co Meath, on their recent engagement. The happy couple are pictured below in Dunderry Hall, Dunderry, Co Meath, after a ceili last November.


'Tis the season for a ceili

There's an abundance of dancing in December, ceilis and parties every night of the week for the full month, all with a festive holiday atmosphere. Your editor was on the road for most of that month, managing to visit 21 venues and 22 events, and relates his experiences in the following diary of his adventures.

Friday, December 1st

Dun na Sí is a little hall on the edge of the town of Moate, Co Westmeath, built in the style of a traditional Irish cottage. There's always a turf fire, and the fireplace is big enough to offer seating accommodation for six. The twice-monthly ceilis are always lively and well supported and feature popular bands, with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh providing tonight's entertainment.

There were an abundance of men in the hall; I noticed three who had to sit out while the rest of us danced the first set. Later the numbers evened out. You had to be quick onto the floor - there were no free places when my partner and I went out for the Caledonian. However, I spotted two hands in the air, a gent in one set and a lady in another were each seeking partners. I asked the gent if he minded dancing with the lady; he left his place to me and went over to her, but unfortunately another gent got to her first. I offered him his place back but he graciously took a seat to let the set begin.

Some of the gents who were less experienced or more eccentric dancers were nevertheless accepted by all, welcomed into the sets and even asked up by the ladies. While there's great pleasure in knowing the sets well enough to not have to think too much while dancing them, I think it also must be great fun when the sets are still a mystery and every move comes as a surprise.

Saturday, December 2nd

I was dancing sides in the first set (was it the Connemara?) in the Rainbow Ballroom, Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, and all seemed normal enough at first. However, as soon as I stopped to let the tops do their thing, I could feel a seismic difference in dancing in this hall. Even though I was standing still, it was like I was still dancing, thanks to the classic sprung timber dance hall floor here. Every movement on the floor was transmitted throughout the hall by the remarkable bounce. The floor was said to have been laid on rubber tyres and with the soft and springy comfort of the dancing I was easily convinced of that.

A storm raged outdoors but the eight or ten sets who had braved the wind and rain found a warm atmosphere, energetic music by Swallow's Tail Ceili Band and plenty of goodies at the tea break. While all the dancers were panting and sweating with their exertions, the band looked relaxed and cool on stage, so much so that some of them kept their caps and coats on during the whole ceili.

The Rainbow Ballroom, also known as the original Ballroom of Romance, was built privately in 1934, I learned, and was acquired by the local council in the seventies for use by the community. Funding has recently been acquired to improve the facilities but I would certainly like to see a preservation order on that floor!

Monday, December 4th

Freshly arrived in Dublin for a week of city dancing, I ventured downtown by bus to the Cobblestone Bar in Smithfield. Surrounding the pub are gleaming new high-rise developments, but the Cobblestone remains one of the last bits of old Dublin in the area. I was sent to the upstairs bar where a half-dozen dancers were learning the brush dance from Mary Beth Taylor. Several of them appeared to be European students who were managing the steps quite well. As Mary Beth finished set dancers drifted in for a class with Vincent Doherty. There were enough for two sets beginning with the Caledonian and Vincent gave thoughtful explanations of the correct style of the set, as well as its moves.

I caught a lift with a friend out to Bray where there's a free live music ceili every Monday night in Katie Gallagher's. At first there was a smaller than usual crowd in the pub - everyone else was in the class Christmas party in the lounge. The musicians were set up and ready to go, so they began with the few of us in the pub and the partygoers drifted in and formed new sets. The regular musicians were playing, Con McCarthy on banjo, Mick O'Connor on box and Brian Kelly on guitar, and made music that inspired shouts of merriment and brought six sets of dancers every week. We danced five sets, most of them shortened by dropping a figure or two to fit more in.

Admission to the ceili is free, so to pay the musicians, there's a weekly lotto game. Inexpensive tickets were purchased by nearly everyone and each of us wrote numbers from 1 to 6 in any desired order on them. Later, to choose the winner, six numbered ping-pong balls were drawn from a bag with the prize going to the owner of the ticket with numbers in the same order. No winner tonight but we were having too much fun dancing to mind.

Tuesday, December 5th

I ventured out in my car tonight and wasn't more than fifteen minutes late for Pádraig and Róisín McEneany's class at the Wanderers Rugby Club in the Merrion Road, Dublin 4. I must have passed the easy-to-miss entrance three or four times before I was certain enough to venture in. Pádraig said he saw me on the road tonight; I would have been on time if I'd been sharp enough to spot him and follow him here. They were teaching the West Kerry Set and soon Pádraig found me a partner and a place in a set. My lady complained about having to dance backward for two bars when dancing around the house, as well as doubling around the house in the hornpipe figure but she accomplished it all perfectly. There were two sets, plus a half set, and couples traded places to give everyone a chance to dance in a full set. When we finished the set, everyone exited for a break in the bar, while I returned to the car for my next destination.

The Lower Deck is a pleasant pub by the canal in Dublin 8 where Shay McGovern was holding class tonight. He shares the teaching with Stephen Kenny. When I arrived there weren't enough of us to make a set, but we were soon dancing the Sliabh Luachra to Johnny Reidy's music from a little digital music player. In the fourth figure where we lead around and turn the lady, Shay suggested we swing in ceili hold as it's easier to get into the lead around position - he was right about that! When we danced the Lancers, he commented on the variations that have crept into the set over the years: "The tradition wouldn't stay alive if it didn't keep changing."

After class nearly everyone went upstairs to the bar, and a plate of sandwiches was passed around. After a half hour of chat, the dancers began to complain about the parking in the area. I mentioned that I had no trouble at all; there were plenty of spaces outside the pub when I parked around 9pm. I was informed that the clampers operate here till midnight! I made a hasty retreat, but luckily my car escaped imprisonment.

Wednesday, December 6th

All Hallows College, a Catholic college for religious studies in Drumcondra, Dublin 9, is about the grandest place I've ever seen for set dancing. Even in the dark I could see that the grounds were an oasis of beauty in the city, with mature trees and a manicured lawn, overlooked by a few elegant Georgian buildings. I enquired for the set dancing class at the reception desk and was sent to a lovely compact hall with a lofty ceiling and soaring windows. Mary Brogan is fortunate to hold her set dancing class here, and this was the final class before the holiday. Sets were formed and I was awarded custody of the class's Clarewoman. When Mary asked what we wanted to dance, without any hesitation my partner requested the Caledonian. For the next set I requested the South Galway, probably my favourite reel set, and then it was time for the break and the Christmas party. We moved down the hall to the canteen, plenty of appetising goodies were laid out and tea was served. I helped myself to a bit, but soon made my farewell.

My next port of call was Balbriggan, Co Dublin, about seventeen miles away. I needn't have rushed away from the party in All Hallows. I arrived at the clubhouse of Glebe North Football Club at nine to find the Emerald Trio all set to play, but hardly anyone was in the hall. A few more came in slowly and by a quarter to ten the dancing began. The music was a genuine traditional treat well worth the wait, with Oliver Reilly on piano, his dad Paddy Reilly on fiddle and 85-year-old Brenny Weldon going better than ever on piano accordion. Another young fellow, Bill Gill from Donegal, sang us a couple old fashioned songs. I was especially fond of the floor, which was mature, comfortable, clean and well kept. While dancing, I glanced often into the adjacent kitchen where a team of ladies were making fresh sandwiches for the break. The ceili here is on the first Wednesday of every month and is operated by the local branch of Comhaltas. They proudly told me they were 41 years in operation and currently have 37 pupils in their music classes.

Thursday, December 7th

Talbot Street is well known to Dublin set dancers, who buy their shoes and copies of Set Dancing News in the Talbot Dance Centre under the railway bridge. Folks have been dancing to live music in O'Shea's Hotel every Thursday night for the past couple of decades. On the same night, Betty McCoy teaches a class in the Ripley Court Hotel, which is also under the railway bridge opposite the shoe shop. Tonight Betty was working through the Killyon Set, a Co Offaly favourite, and she proudly showed me the notes she was referring to - a 1999 page from Set Dancing News. Practice makes perfect, and we had plenty of practice; after each figure we repeated all the figures learned so far. There was still time for another set, so Betty chose the Caledonian - "something everybody knows," she said. This might have been true for the first half of the set, but hilarious chaos reigned in the majority of the sets for the last three figures.

I wandered down the street to the bar in O'Shea's Hotel and found a set dancing the Connemara as I arrived. Tables were shifted to make enough room for two sets, but dancers were too comfortable to stir from their seats and make a second set. For the last figure of the Connemara, the dancers encouraged everyone to join Maggie in the Woods, and a crowd of tourists joined in. Music was by Mick O'Connor whom I'd met on Monday in Bray and guitarist Brendan Phelan who has been the mainstay of the set dancing here for many years. He sang a song or two between sets. I was asked to dance the Plain Set by a lady who said she'd been dancing sets "on and off" for 25 years. I told her I'd been dancing just half that time but had never stopped. I enjoyed dancing sides as the already lively music seemed slightly faster by the time it was our turn to dance. There was a constant flow of tourists in and out of the bar and always plenty of enthusiastic spectators who enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed dancing.

Friday, December 8th

St Peregrine's GAA Club hosts a Friday night ceili once a month, one of the Dublin area's many monthly ceilis. The clubhouse in Hartstown near Blanchardstown northwest of the city has recently been greatly expanded with an enormous new hall. Tonight however, the hall was double booked for a concert by vintage showband star Dickie Rock so the ceili moved upstairs to the bar. This was a much more intimate venue and suited the crowd and the Glenside Ceili Band well. During the Kilfenora Plain Set, the band began the wheelbarrow figure with a jig, an understandable mistake as I'm always mixing up the Corofin and Kilfenora sets myself. Most of us kept on dancing and the band quickly copped on to their error. Without dropping a beat they switched to reels and those of us already dancing were able to continue. Some of the other sets though hadn't started, so to get everyone dancing together, the lads stopped and restarted the music. The entire night benefited from a jovial atmosphere that lasted even when the band was nearly ready to go home. Tom Flood took up the box, drummer Aidan Flood grabbed a pair of wooden spoons and both sat on a speaker for one last rake of reels, though only one couple could be roused from their seats to step it out.

Saturday, December 9th

The ceili in Na Fianna GAA Club in Glasnevin is another of Dublin's monthly ceilis. The club premises were closed for refurbishment in the past year but are now fully reopened. All areas have been newly decorated and the hall looks smart in beige, white and pine; the original floor has benefited from a sanding. The Brian Ború Ceili Band made great dance music in the Clare style and Mary Murphy called a variety of set, ceili and two-hand dances. A group of foreign students was partnered up with the regulars for the two-hands and they danced the Peeler and the Goat in their own exuberant style. I chanced the Eight-Hand Jig. Even though I've danced it on occasion, there are parts of it that baffle me still, but I managed reasonably well with Mary's calling. She demonstrated her versatility by dancing a few solo steps, along with Micheál Ó Raghaillaigh and Colm Ó Coisdealbha. The night ended with the choice of a Sixteen-Hand Reel or non-stop Plain Set.

Sunday, December 10th

Marie Philbin's Christmas ceili is always one of the highlights of the season in Galway. She's run the ceili for charity for many years and it's well supported by the community. It was back in Claddagh Hall again this year with music by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. Early on there was some concern as to whether anyone would show up, but people arrived all afternoon long and the hall was filled with dancers and supporters. From the very first set I found myself in dancing heaven and it just got better all afternoon. Spot prizes were handed out freely and an enormous raffle was held in the break. Tea, sandwiches and goodies were available all afternoon, though we were restricted to ten people in the kitchen at once. A step-it-out session preceded the last two sets, with Marie herself beaming with delight as she joined four other sean nós steppers.

Monday, December 11th

It was for a special occasion that I made a return visit to Katie Gallagher's in Bray tonight - the gala Christmas dinner. This attracts dancers from all over Dublin and Wicklow, not just the regulars who are here every Monday. My instructions were to be here at 7.30pm - the sooner the dinner was over the sooner the dancing would begin. Tables filled every corner of the pub to seat 120. Among the guests were all the musicians who play here regularly, including members of the Fodhla and Brian Ború ceili bands; they could relax and enjoy the entire evening as the Glenside Ceili Band was on duty tonight.

The tables were set with books of raffle tickets (€5 for five) and Christmas crackers - soon we were wearing paper crowns and reading jokes to each other. After the Christmas pudding we were ordered out to the lounge for the raffle. When that was done we returned to the pub to find it cleared of tables and ready for the ceili. There was twice the usual crowd here, as many as twelve sets all dancing with gusto. After the final figure of the Plain Set the Glenside kept us moving with a rake of Christmas carols; there was a frenzy of jolliness as everyone joined hands and sang along.

Tuesday, December 12th
The dancing class in Dolan's Pub in Limerick is popular with the students attending university here, many of whom are from abroad. At tonight's Christmas party, teacher Pat O'Connell was pleased to acknowledge their countries of origin - Australia, Japan, Poland, Austria, Germany and England - and gave his best wishes to all who were returning home for the holidays. The festivities included plenty of door prizes, tea and edibles served on the balcony overlooking the hall and a Siege of Ennis to get everyone dancing.

Seamus Sheehy is a young one-man band who provided all the music on his own using his enormous piano accordion - my first time hearing him. He played with a delicacy unusual at a ceili; the melodies were highly ornamented; the dancing was a delight. The baseball cap he wore shielded his eyes from the lights on stage, but also kept his face in shadow so I couldn't really see him. Luckily the flash on my camera eliminated the shadow so I could capture his smile for all to see.

Thursday, December 14th
Vaughan's Barn in Kilfenora is still going strong after more than fifteen years, with fun and friendly ceilis every Sunday and Thursday. The Christmas party is a special night where the modest admission charge is waived and a free drink is offered to everyone. The original converted cowshed can hold five sets without too much crowding and as many as three extra sets danced in the adjacent extension. The Four Courts Ceili Band continues to provide beautiful music at every ceili here. After the last set, Joe Rynne mentioned that the band was rumoured to be breaking up. However, he said that they are not breaking up and will continue playing together - they enjoy each other's company too much to give that up - though they won't be doing as much travelling to ceilis outside the area. After this reassuring news, tea, sandwiches and cake were served to all.
Saturday, December 16th

West Limerick Set Dancing Club held their Christmas party in the GAA clubhouse on the edge of Abbeyfeale, just on the Kerry side of the River Feale. The modest little lounge has hardly enough room for everyone interested in dancing and dining there. The club even brings along their own floor to add to the one already in place. The entertainment was by Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, with a long pause for a two-course meal. During the third or fourth set, caterers arrived with the supper, and began setting out plates of food on a table by the band. Hungry ones who weren't dancing began to collect their meal, but Tim Joe cautioned them that for safety reasons no one was to take food until the set had finished. The queue was quick to form when that happened! After supper the dancing was even more animated with plenty of fun, mischief, hugs and kisses. Tim Joe went beyond the call of duty to call the sets while playing and even mixed in Jingle Bells with some of his Cashel Set polkas.

Sunday, December 17th

My Christmas wanderings took me to the heart of west Cork, where the Dunmanway set dancers hosted a Christmas party this afternoon in the Parkway Hotel. I'd been here before but forgot how big the hotel's ballroom is - when dancing at the back the band seems away off in another time zone. Nevertheless Johnny Reidy's music has the power to reach each corner of the hall and keep all sets dancing under his complete control - what bliss it was! Wandering around the hall I was introduced to three members of an American family now living in Cork who were from the remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska. After only two months here they were already keen set dancers, thanks to the dance class in Schull operated by Bertie and Annie Moran. It matters not where you're from as long as you get up on the floor and dance a set!

Monday, December 18th

It was a beautiful bright and sunny day when I left Kilfenora, but as soon as I crossed the county border, the fog replaced the lovely blue skies. The mist stayed with me all the way to Westport, Co Mayo, plus I also had to contend with floods, blocked roads and diversions, but with another party tonight, I wouldn't consider turning back. Despite the delays, I showed up early for the Christmas dinner of the Westport branch of Comhaltas at the Castlecourt Hotel, just as the staff were putting finishing touches on the table decorations and Matt Cunningham was setting up his sound equipment. The ballroom was spacious enough to fit about fifteen large round tables for 120 guests without taking up any of the roomy dance floor.

Once everyone was in place, a three-course meal was the first order of business. There were hats, noisemakers and crackers on the tables to put us in a holiday mood, and we were both well-fed and happy when the dancing began. Matt brought along his son Eric on flute and his ever-faithful accompanist Larry Cooley and they played lovely music for a variety of dances, set, ceili, two-hands, waltzes, quicksteps, even Christmas carols. For one of the sets, Matt gave his seat on stage to box player Pat Friel for a welcome chance to dance to Pat's music now that his band Heather Breeze has retired from active duty. Three members performed a song especially written to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Westport branch, and with such a successful night of holiday dancing, there will surely be many more years to come.

Tuesday, December 19th

Durrow Hall is a modest little hall beside a church which looks like it was a schoolhouse in years past. It's in Co Offaly along the road between Kilbeggan and Tullamore. Yesterday's fog was here to stay and it looked as though it might make for a quiet night in Durrow, but in the end it was the merriest party of all! Folks were arriving in all kinds of strange garb - red and white hats and coats, coloured wigs, big ears, a policeman, Arab, witch, cowboy and many more. Together with the music of the Glenside Ceili Band there was riotous fun all night long and an atmosphere that could nearly have taken the roof off the hall. We were shouting and roaring while we danced and even the few people sitting out a set couldn't keep themselves from joining in all the messing on the floor. Most of the sets were called by Martin Newton, who told a few wry jokes as well. There was an odd display when six people were invited out onto the floor and were made to sway back and forth on their knees in a kind of Chinese whispers joke. There was some sean nós dancing displays as well, but our regular old sets were the highlights of the night. When the last set finished, the band switched into Christmas carol mode and everyone grabbed on to someone in front of them and snaked around the hall in one final burst of festive joy. We were all fully grown adults in Durrow Hall that night, but it's amazing how the music and dancing turned us into kids again!

Wednesday, December 20

Kilshanny is the next parish to Kilfenora in Co Clare where a new class has recently begun in the community hall on Wednesday nights. Maggie Hutton teaches in Ennis and Lissycasey, and started here just five weeks earlier. The three sets of dancers were delighted to have a good local class and showed their appreciation when they presented Maggie with a gift during the break. As you might expect they're concentrating on the Caledonian and working their way through the other Clare sets as well. Before long Maggie will make them experts at all the sets!

Friday, December 22

After paying admission to the ceili in the Kilbride Community Centre, Four-Mile-House, Co Roscommon, I was ushered not into the hall, but straight into the kitchen where I received a mug of hot Christmas punch. There were two huge pots of punch being kept warm on the cooker - one for drivers and the other for passengers. I had the pleasure of more music by Matt Cunningham, this time with Richard Murray on flute, P J Daly on drums and Matt's daughter Ita demonstrating her versatility on piano - I've only ever seen her playing fiddle with the band before tonight. I stepped it out in the Connemara and doubled every chance I had in the Ballyvourney as it was my last ceili till after the holiday - every set was a delight. The community centre has two halls, the one we were dancing in tonight, and another which is probably six times as big! This was where they served the tea in the break. I chatted to one happy fellow who had just finished his last day of work after 38 years at his job. I'd have a long way to go match that but I'm pretty happy myself after a month of Christmas parties, ceilis and dinners.

Bill Lynch


Longford magic

The seventh annual Sean-Óg set dancing weekend took place in the midland town of Longford from 17th to 19th November last. The Longford Arms Hotel and its sister hotel the Anally just across the street were the venues for this terrific festival. The line-up of ceili bands was a dancer's dream.

The first ceili of the weekend got underway at 7pm in the Anally Hotel. The Davey Ceili Band supplied the brilliant music. The crowd was slow to arrive at first and we started dancing with only three sets on the floor. Very quickly the crowd grew to twelve sets. We danced all the usual sets and had a lovely Kilfenora Set. This ceili concluded at 9pm and everyone gathered across to the Longford Arms for the second ceili of the night. With Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh on stage this ceili began at 10pm. The sheer magic of this music sent our hearts racing and our feet tapping. Again we danced all the usual sets, some of which we had danced earlier in the Anally. We had forty sets on the floor and I was delighted when we danced the lovely Labasheeda Set. The night concluded with a selection of reels. Micheál and Pat definitely have the wow factor.

Saturday morning at 10.30am Pat Murphy began his set dancing workshop. The first set was the Cúchulainn as danced in the Cooley Peninsula of Co Louth. Then we had the Loughgraney, which is usually danced as a half-set but works very well as a full set. Some dancers requested the South Galway Set as they were teaching this set at their own classes. This is a simple little five-figure set danced in the Gort area of Co Galway.

The afternoon workshop was dedicated to the recently revived Sliabh Fraoch Set. It is believed that this set was originally danced in the Rockchapel area of Co Cork. I first danced this set at a class in Ibiza in April last year given by Frank and Bobby Keenan. I believe that this set will become one of the regular sets on the dancing scene. All thirty sets on the floor had a wonderful workshop with the king of set dancing masters, Pat Murphy, giving his usual expert tuition. At 4pm Gerard Butler took over the class and taught sean nós dancing. Most of the dancers remained and had a great time.

While adults were enjoying their day of workshops, younger dancers were having a ball in the Anally Hotel to the superb music of Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan. I spoke to Gabrielle Cassidy who called the sets for the ceili and she relayed to me that over ten sets had danced the afternoon away.

The Esca Bar in the Anally Hotel was where John and Nigel Davey from the Davey Ceili Band played in session from 6.30 to 8.30pm. The music was amazing. We danced waltzes, quicksteps and a few reels. Some more energetic dancers jived and stepped it out in rock and roll time.

At 9pm the Copperplate Ceili Band graced the stage in the Anally for the first ceili of the night. Crowds began to gather almost immediately the door was opened. We started with the Connemara Set and by the time of the second set I counted twenty sets on the floor. This number quickly grew to thirty. What a joy to dance to the fabulous music of this very talented band. Near the end of the ceili the crowd began to lessen as dancers crossed the road to dance to the Swallow's Tail Ceili Band. I rushed across to the Longford Arms after the last set in the Anally. Space was very tight but everyone seemed to be having a superb time. I counted seventy sets on the floor for the Plain Set. We had a real treat when the Cunningham family from Connemara gave us a demonstration of sean nós dancing. What a joy to watch these young dancers with the magical feet.

Sunday morning at 11am Marie Garrity gave a two-hand workshop. We were privileged to dance once more to the music of the Copperplate Ceili Band. Marie taught the two-hand Polly Glide, followed by the Royal Windsor Waltz, the Millennium Barn Dance, and concluded with the Donegal Mazurka. We had 150 dancers enjoying this brilliant two-hand workshop. When the class finished the Copperplate played a selection of reels to die for and I was among the twenty sets that remained and wallowed in this super treat of music and dancing.

With lunch over the crowds began to gather even before the ballroom was opened. We were all eager to get dancing again to the mega music of Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan. At 2.30pm forty sets graced the floor for the first set of the afternoon. Again all the usual sets were danced; numbers grew to fifty sets as the afternoon moved on.

At break time midway through the ceili, a group of young Co Clare dancers gave us a fantastic exhibition of dancing under the expert guidance of their teacher John Fennel. They were part of the team of the famous Hell For Leather show and ranged in age from 5 to 12 years of age. John Fennell and people like him should be praised and treasured for the work, time and commitment that they give to these young people to ensure that this very important aspect of our culture lives on in the hearts and feet of our young people.

Gabrielle Cassidy addressed the crowd and thanked everyone for attending. Then we had a minute's silence for well-known set dancer, the late Val Deane from Co Cork. The ceili continued until 5.30pm and concluded with the Connemara Set.

The final ceili of the festival began at 9pm in the Longford Arms ballroom. I was delighted to count 25 sets on the floor for the first set. We had another brilliant ceili with the terrific music of the Tulla Ceili Band on stage. Numbers grew to 35 sets and everyone was delighted with the night. This was the farewell ceili and what a farewell. The Tulla played their socks off!

Another Sean-Óg Festival had come to an end. The venues are superb, the music magic, the dance tutors the best in the world - truly a dancer's paradise for the weekend. The committee under the baton of Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy are to be commended. I hope anyone who wants to go to this festival next year has booked accommodation, as this is one of the most popular festivals in Ireland, and its popularity and reputation are growing all the time.

Joan Pollard Carew


Westport's 20th weekend

Set dancing has survived for generations through the popularity of house dances and also in the local dance halls. A house dance could be arranged at short notice but there was always a reason for it to ensure respect and appreciation. An 'American wake' was one reason for a night of music, song and dance, arranged to say farewell to a member or members of a family emigrating to the USA for the first time. Unlike today when it only takes hours by plane to get there, in those far off days it took days by liner and for that reason, trips back home were few and in some cases family members never saw their parents again.

Every area had its own style of dancing and in some parts of the country the 'hearthstone' was the focal point of dancing. In the construction of the houses an old iron pot was placed upside down beneath the hearthstone or flagstone, which resounded to foot tapping.

Set dancing did not die by any means but it was not as widely practised or as popular as it is today. In Autumn 1986 the Mayo Vocational Education Committee, responding to a suggestion from the Westport branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, included a set dancing class in its adult education program. In a very short time the attendance of adults at these classes was most encouraging, so much so that the branch decided to host its first dancing workshop on the 8-9 November 1986. The tutors engaged were Joe and Siobhan O'Donovan from Cork.

From early Saturday morning until 5pm Sunday afternoon, dancers were on their toes taking every step seriously, culminating in having to their credit the Kerry, Castle, Cuil Aodha and Caledonian sets. The following year in January 1987 set dancing classes re-commenced after the Christmas Holidays and attracted over 100 participants over the ten-week course and become a major social and cultural event in our town. An equal number of children attended separate junior classes.

It's Friday night November 24 and the stage is set for the twentieth annual set dancing workshop. It never ceases to amaze us how our annual workshop goes from strength to strength, and November 2006 was an outstanding success. The Westport Woods Hotel was the venue and the weekend kicked off with a ceili on Friday night with music by Swallow's Tail Ceili Band.

Saturday morning began the workshop proper - several sets including the Cúchulainn Set, Fermanagh Quadrilles, Sliabh Fraoch Set and the East Galway Set were explained, practised and perfected under the excellent supervision of Pat Murphy who conducted the weekend workshop.

On Saturday afternoon at four o'clock, the usual tea break time, a cake to celebrate twenty years of set dancing workshop was cut. Present were tutors who conducted workshops over the years, Séamus Ó Méalóid, Mick Mulkerrin, Betty McCoy and Pat Murphy. Also present were Cormac Ó Cionnaith, chairman of Westport branch of Comhaltas, and Eamon Gannon, set dancing classes tutor. Joe and Siobhan O'Donovan were invited but they sent a card containing good wishes as they do not travel anymore.

Saturday night's ceili saw upwards of thirty sets on the floor. Many sets taught during the day were danced plus many more to the excellent consistent music of the Heather Breeze Ceili Band. The full house sign was up at 10.30pm.

Sunday morning saw further tuition and the set practised was the East Mayo Set and with a little time left, the Ruby Waltz. Sunday afternoon's ceili was a sight to behold - packed ballroom, dancers on their feet non-stop to the music of Matt Cunningham and his band. Sunday afternoon before the tea break, Séamus Ó Méalóid, John Joe Geraghty, Mary Connolly and Phyllis Kelly held the audience spellbound with a presentation of their 'Supernanny' sketch and a song to commemorate the twentieth anniversary.

Sunday evening, the coaches are ticking over on the forecourts, car engines purring, as people from all over Ireland and overseas head home tired but happy. Farewells all round, because great bonds of friendships have been forged between set dancers wherever and whenever they meet. The element of fun is so important we hope it will be passed on. The local people with enough energy left will dance more sets, sing and tell stories until the wee small hours at the various pubs. From the time the music commenced on Friday night until the last tune was played on Sunday night, the atmosphere was electric, people enjoying every minute of it, so here is to the next year, an event to cherish.

Jim Staunton, President, Westport Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann


Dancing at Tilba

Central Tilba is a beautiful haven on the far south coast of New South Wales - about five o'clock if you imagine Australia as a clock. It's a tiny heritage trust town with only one main street of small timber buildings and houses, nestled on the top of a ridge that forms part of an old volcanic caldera. The attraction for us, apart from the beautiful scenery and mild climate, is the excellent old community hall with its beautiful weathered timber floor and large sash windows.

So Martin Largey and I decided that we would organize a weekend of music and set dancing in Tilba for December 2006. Our thinking was informed by our experience of dancing in Ireland, particularly the idea of having a session at the local pub, and also by our incredible good fortune of having secured Seamus Begley and Jim Murray to play for us for the weekend. The local hotel owner of the Dromedary Hotel in Central Tilba was interested, if not a bit bemused by the idea of dancing in the pub. "No worries" he said, as I tried to explain how it would all go. My biggest concern was that the dancers didn't break through the old timber floor and go crashing to the ground a good five feet below.

We started our session on Friday evening by ensuring that the ambience was right in the pub - the only light bulb in the section of the pub we were dancing in was broken, and there were some ghastly colored spotlights that were blinding everyone. "Any electrician in the house?" - Martin to the rescue. Ten minutes later we were bathed in an incandescent glow and Seamus and Jim were fired up and ready to go. Polkas and slides ripped and the pace was flying - our two sets were bending the floor boards and gasping as we danced through the Borlin Set and the Ballyvourney Jig Set. "Them bitches can dance!" an inebriated local was overhead to say to his equally intoxicated mate.

We were lucky enough to get a good crowd of people from Canberra (about three hours drive), some people from as far away as Newcastle, Sydney and Blue Mountains (minimum of five hours drive) and some wonderful volunteers to help.

Saturday dawned wet and cool, a soft day, to the delight of all, except our Irish visitors! Martin began teaching our set for the morning workshop, the Fermanagh Set. Teaching was ably assisted by showing the Faoi Do Chois DVD - thanks Pádraig and Róisín! We were joined by a few people new to set dancing and soon got warm by working through the figures. We also had a few interested passers - by from the main street looking into the hall. After a leisurely lunch, Martin then took us through our paces with the Ballyvourney Reel Set, which of course, doesn't have a single reel figure in it. More new people and particularly, a group of interested locals from Tilba started in on the afternoon workshop.

The day remained steadfastly wet and cool, increased in the evening, and was decidedly wet by the time our evening concert and ceili started at 8pm. A mixed offering of set dancing punctuated with the occasional beautiful song (and terrible joke) from Seamus and Jim made for a really enjoyable evening, as we danced through the Ballyvourney Reel Set, Connemara Set, West Kerry Set (minus the last figure of doubling), Borlin Set, Plain Set, Caledonian Set and Ballyvourney Jig Set, which is the finale of choice by Aussie set dancers. Seamus observed that here we were dancing both Ballyvourney sets on exactly the same weekend as those in Ballyvourney, Co Cork, were meeting to do the same thing!

Sunday arrived clear and warm - Australian weather to contrast to the Irish day previously. The morning was free for all and people did a range of things - climbed Mt Dromedary (Gulaga to the local Yuin aboriginal people), visited the local Tilba winery, went to the beach, swam in the lakes and generally lazed about in the sun. Music beckoned in the afternoon and we danced all those sets again in the hall to the music of Seamus and Jim for a couple of wonderful hours, before everyone disappeared in a flash at four o'clock, heading north and west to their various homes.

Nora Stewart, Bywong, NSW, Australia


A ceili made in Italy

From Trieste on 17th December at 11am we set off for Ferrara, three hours away, and at 3pm sharp the ceili started. Ferrara is rather a long way for us to go for an afternoon but it was really worthwhile. We try to meet all our friends at least once a month and this time it was important to exchange Christmas greetings. At least the weather was fine, no sign of the usual fog, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we had a quick look at this lovely city which we had never visited before. We arrived at the Rodari Centre at the same time as the groups from Milan, Venice and Padova. The Ferrara friends were already there waiting and the dancing could begin.

The Glenside Ceili Band started the Connemara Set and there were five sets, not bad considering we are all Italian, except Mary who is Irish. We continued with the Plain and the Ballyvourney with the Abbey Ceili Band, the Lancers with Michael Sexton, etc. Not having live music, we bring all our Irish CDs of the best bands. In the evening after having danced eight sets, eaten Christmas cake and toasted with sparkling wine, it was time to say goodbye.

For the last two years we have been organising these ceilis regularly so we can continue to enjoy our Irish set dancing. At least once a year many of us manage to go to Ireland but here we are spread around various parts of Italy and so it's difficult for us to meet regularly and have enough people for a good group; so that is why we had this idea to meet half-way, hoping to encourage more people to come. There are usually about fifty people and we try to recreate a corner of Ireland, while we wait for a taste of the real thing.

Susanna Maraspin Trieste, Italy


Blankenheim New Year

Set dancing makes the world a smaller place. Its popularity around the world brings many people to Ireland and creates friends across all backgrounds. Once you dance a great set with someone, you're friends for life. Ireland's best exports are probably happiness and friendship, and they've taken strong root in the German town of Blankenheim where some special dancing takes place every second New Year's Eve. It happened again from December 28th to New Year's Day, the fourth of the biennial Irish festivals here.

Blankenheim is in the west of Germany, as close as twenty kilometres from the Belgian border. It's in a scenic area of wooded hills and steep valleys cut by rivers and lakes. The small town occupies a valley and spreads up the surrounding hills. The highest building on the hills overlooking Blankenheim is the 900-year-old castle, which was restored from ruins into a comfortable hostel. For four days eighty participants had everything we needed under one roof - music, dance, food, drink and limited quantities of sleep.

Some of the Irish participants arrived on Wednesday, December 27th, which gave them the chance to visit Cologne, explore Blankenheim or just rest before the scheduled events began on Thursday evening. Supper was the first item on the agenda, with hearty and tasty German fare and a welcome from the event's organiser, Kasia Jankowska. The dining room did double duty as the ballroom. After a meal the amazing transformation involved moving more than a dozen heavy dining tables to a storage room reached through an adjacent outdoor balcony. There was never a shortage of volunteers to lift tables out before a ceili, or to carry them back for a meal.

Once the hall was clear Pat Murphy began a workshop on the Cúchulainn Set, and afterward there was time for two two-hand dances, the Margaret Waltz and Millennium Hornpipe. There were also workshops in step dancing and music elsewhere in the castle. At 10pm it was time for the ceili but our band wasn't yet ready, so Pat played CDs for the Kilfenora Set, and then we went live for the Connemara. The musicians were Liam Purcell and John Nesbitt on accordion, Kathleen Nesbitt on fiddle and Maebh Ní Lochlainn on concertina, all from Dublin. There was no amplification, just pure music, and with no more than six sets it was easy to hear them when dancing. I liked being able to hear the bass on the accordion, which is usually inaudible at most ceilis. There were some extra musicians toward midnight - after dancing a bit, a couple of Irish teenagers attending with their parents got out their instruments and played along with the band.

Traditional step dancing has always been a part of the Blankenheim events, thanks to the teaching of Celine and Michael Tubridy. They weren't able to attend this time, so Noel Devery from Tullamore, Co Offaly, taught the workshops on Friday. His dance this morning was the Easy Jig, which like most of Celine's dances was learned from Labasheeda dance master Dan Furey. However it wasn't learned directly from Dan - instead Celine and Michael discovered a videotape from 1990 showing Dan dancing it and they learned it from that.

Pat Murphy took over in the second half of the morning and taught one of his newest sets, the East Mayo, and then the tables came out for lunch. Usually this was the main meal of the day, with servings of carbohydrates (potatoes, noodles or rice) and of a yummy sauce brought to each table, along with bowls of salad and dessert. If the diners at a table cleared all their bowls and still wanted more, there was often more to be found on neighbouring tables. No one ever went short of food in Blankenheim!

The schedule was thankfully clear of dance workshops in the afternoon, allowing folks to make a leisurely walk around town. The most challenging part of this was the steep descent down the hill, which can be icy, but no one suffered any mishaps. Our walks lasted only till we came to an attractive café in the main street; there could be as many as a dozen set dancers in there at a time. There was no need to go out for tea at all because it was dispensed at 4pm in the castle with delicious cakes and cookies. At 5pm we danced the gorgeous South Sligo Lancers Set with Pat Murphy, at 7pm we ate a supper of bread, meat and cheese, at 8pm Noel Devery taught the Priest and His Boots and at 10pm the ceili began. The most notable set was the Claddagh - those who danced it well had a fantastic time, and everyone else seemed to achieve the heights of hilarity.

After the ceili on Friday night, most of the musicians and dancers slowly made their farewells, though there were plenty of us not quite ready for bed yet. After some minutes of pleasant chat, people began wondering if we'd get another set. Liam Purcell had remained in the room, so a brave lady kindly asked him to play for the Caledonian Set, and he gladly did so, giving us great satisfaction, and then retired. After another while the urge to dance returned. We focused attention on one of the young musicians, Martin Hughes from Mayo, who played box with the band and with Liam. The Ballyvourney Jig Set was suggested; Martin agreed and teamed up with a few of his friends on whistle, flute and fiddle. It was the most surprising and enjoyable Ballyvourney I've danced in a long time. It was normal enough at first, but when the musicians played a certain part of one of the slides, The Dingle Regatta, they jumped up and down in their seats and sang "Hey ho!" repeating it four times with each turn of the tune. This little trick caught us by surprise, generated great amusement while dancing and raised our mood to new heights. Everyone joined in the chorus with them, singing "Hey ho!" at the top of our lungs every chance we had while dancing with the greatest of gusto. The pleasure of this set alone was worth the trip to Germany; the Ballyvourney will never be the same again. I know I'll be singing whenever I hear that tune again! The young band couldn't be stopped after that, playing jigs and hornpipes for step dancing, plus reels for a Connemara set. At the end of the Maggie figure they began playing Jingle Bells and we sang together, dancing all the while. We couldn't stop the music when the dance ended because the tune wasn't finished, so we kept the big Christmas going for 24 bars! Finally, the band calmed us down by playing the Irish national anthem, while the Germans had to sing their own and then we happily drifted back to our rooms. It was around 2am, though only 1am Irish time.

Of course, a nine o'clock breakfast on Saturday morning in Blankenheim is only 8am Irish time, but sleep is never a priority when there's dancing to be done. In the step dancing class after we practiced the Priest and His Boots, Noel Devery put down crosses of masking tape on the floor, one for each of us, around two dozen in total. This was for another of Dan Furey's dances, the Gabhairín Buí or Yellow Goat, traditionally danced over two sticks. The East Galway Set consumed lots of energy in Pat Murphy's workshop, as all four couples dance all the time in it. We finished with the Canadian Barn Dance; the progressive version of it is a nice way to meet all the ladies (or gents) in the hall.

After lunch, another wander 'round the village, the second set dancing workshop and supper, there was a special evening concert. Students and teachers of the music workshops performed; the morning's bits of masking tape were recycled for another showing of the Gabhairín Buí; several people volunteered to perform pieces that were prepared with care; and a team of kids and adults presented a movie quiz. The four young musicians who entertained us last night had today been christened the Blankenheim Junior Ceili Band, and they played a few tunes for us, including their number one favourite, "Hey ho!" Everyone sang and jumped up and down with them. Pat Murphy then announced that he was going to demonstrate a special traditional set which had never been danced in Blankenheim before. He selected four German men to dance, and when they were in place, their partners came out to join them - Pat, myself and two other gents took the ladies' parts for a buck set. There seemed to be riotous reaction to us as we danced the first figure of the Cashel but I was too busy concentrating on dancing my steps and moves as a lady to notice anything else.

The ceili started up and the four sets took us to midnight when the late session took over. We again began with a Caledonian Set. My partner congratulated me on my part in the buck set, and I offered to swap places with her to do it again. "Not in the Caledonian!" she said, which was too sacred to her. There was strong interest in a buck set encore - one lady wanted to see us dance the Cashel Hop. Most of the same dancers were back, though in a different configuration as I danced the gent this time. There was a Lancers Set and Shoe the Donkey, an hilarious send-up of sean nós dancing by Liam Purcell, and then the song books came out for a night of singing. I slipped off to bed at another late hour.

Sunday was New Year's Eve, the big day of the festival. We had the two morning workshops, steps with Noel followed by sets with Pat, who taught the new Sliabh Fraoch Set. After lunch the rest of the day was free apart from afternoon tea and a session. Shortly before 8pm queues of well-dressed dancers filled the corridors and stairways waiting to get into the dining hall for the gala New Year's Eve banquet. When the doors opened we entered the hall with amazement. Candles were flickering from all around the room, tables were festooned with decorations and a sumptuous spread of food was awaiting our consumption. To fill our plates we joined a long queue that snaked around the tables and never seemed to disappear for two hours as folks went back for seconds and desserts. When we had enough eaten and got down to the serious work of digestion, members of the kitchen staff came out to see what we thought - they received a standing ovation, plus the proceeds of a collection. Another standing ovation was awarded to our organiser, Kasia, who was rather embarrassed by all the attention. She said a few reassuring words though - she confirmed that she is hoping to host the festival in Blankenheim again in December 2008. It was claimed that this would be the last of these events, but it went so well that she, and the rest of us, would like to see it continue.

With the banquet over and the tables returned to their hiding place, there was still time to dance the final three sets of 2006. At the stroke of midnight, a German Scottish piper began to play, champagne was handed out and each of us began to kiss, hug and shake hands with everyone else present. Fireworks burst all around the castle from the village below, despite some persistent rain which kept us indoors. The dancing resumed with more sets, plus an encore sean nós performance by Liam Purcell, steps by young Martin Hughes and by Martina Bradley from Longford, the step dance called Single Time by a group of ten, music from the Blankenheim Juniors, songs by Martijn Kaal from Amsterdam, and much more.

Fortunately there was a late brunch on offer on Monday so no need to get up early for breakfast on the first day of the new year. The past four days had consumed so much energy that it was hard to get folks dancing, but after 12pm most of the tables were cleared and the musicians grouped together for the last couple of sets. All the while there were farewells as people set off on their journeys, and if there was a chance for a hug and a kiss, I was there. By the time I was ready to leave I was fully farewelled, and departed with a Blankenheim high that hasn't left me yet.

Bill Lynch


Malahide '07

Did you read during the year of the female banker in Hong Kong who won a lawsuit against her dancing instructors? They were ordered to return €6.2 million for lessons she never took. Apparently the said lady had become quite obsessional about ballroom dancing, salsa and rumba and she paid this huge sum to her dancing instructors for unlimited private lessons for eight years. The relationship became strained though when the teachers overstepped the mark and called her a "lazy cow" and told her to "move her arse." They claimed the language was motivational which caused the banker to have a breakdown. Such is life in the fast lane of high finance.

Happily, the teachers at the tenth weekend of dancing in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, 12-14 January, did not find themselves under such pressure, and Aidan Vaughan, Pat Murphy, Mick Mulkerrin, Mairéad Casey, Michael and Celine Tubridy left the Grand Hotel on Sunday night without fear of litigation from the hundreds of dancers who came from all over the country, the US, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Denmark. One young woman, Rieko Yamashita, flew in from Osaka in Japan solely for the workshop.

This weekend is run in memory of the late Connie Ryan, who died ten years ago. Connie was responsible more than anyone else for the revival and promotion of set dancing. He was well known throughout the country, Europe and the US. He was an extremely likeable man, generous and was always willing to help out for a charitable cause. So when he died, Betty McCoy, his dancing partner, with Anne and John Grant and Celine and Michael Tubridy, decided to keep up his work. To date they have run ten set dancing events and have raised almost €70,000 for cancer care and research. And happily they intend to keep the great event going for another while.

The weekend opened on Friday night when Aidan Vaughan demonstrated steps for Clare sets. Aidan was described by Connie as the best set dancer in Ireland and I don't think, even in the intervening years, there has been anybody to match his style and rhythm. A stickler for tradition, he encourages the class to dance close to the ground and listen to the music. That night I met Klaus from Denmark who was there with ten other Danish people. They all listened and watched Aidan intently and were fairly proficient at the end of the night.

The Slievenamon Ceili Band played for the Friday night session. This unique band was originally formed when Connie was planning a trip to America in 1990. They had not met since last year at the same venue, but their gentle pace was a great opening for the weekend.

Pat Murphy taught the Sliabh Fraoch Set on Saturday morning. Collected in Cork by Frank Keenan and Mike Mahony, this is a four-figure set with similarities to the Borlin and Jenny Ling sets. Pat then demonstrated a variety of two-hand dances including the Margaret Waltz, the Ruby Waltz and the Back-to-Back Hornpipe. There was a large group from Italy and they particularly enjoyed trying these dances. That afternoon Pat called the set and two-hand dances to the music of the Four Courts. It is a real treat to hear this band in Dublin and they were very enthusiastically received.

Connie was the first person to introduce Mass at the workshops and Betty has continued this tradition.

What has now become an integral part of the weekend is the session in the bar. More and more dancers are learning to play an instrument as are musicians learning to dance. This year the session seemed bigger than ever and it was hard to tear myself away to go to dance to the Brian Ború Ceili Band. It was unusual to see them as an all-male grouping as Theresa Hughes was indisposed. She was replaced by banjo player Con McCarthy who, according to Séamus Ó Méalóid, "was steady and rhythmic, but not as good looking as Theresa!" Eileen O'Doherty was funny and lively as bean a tí and gave a great variety of sets for the night.

It was hard to get up early for the 10am class on Sunday morning but it was worthwhile for those who did. Michael and Celine Tubridy taught an easy reel. Their style is old traditional step dancing learnt from Dan Furey and James Keane. Fearing the extinction of this style, Michael devised a system for notating the dances and produced them in a book. It is worth the effort to invest a little time to learn and understand the system he uses. It is based on music notation and is a valuable help to anyone who learns the dances and needs the memory jogged. It comes with a cassette of instruction with Michael playing the flute and was published by Brooks Academy.

Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey continued the morning with a class on sean nós dancing. Such was the interest that the class had to be divided with Mairéad showing the basic steps and Mick doing the more advanced. This was Mairéad's first workshop since major surgery but she was as lively as ever and danced beautifully. They have brought out a DVD demonstrating a number of steps.

Matt Cunningham kicked off for the first set of the afternoon ceili and the floor was immediately taken up with over thirty sets. It was a great finish to a wonderful weekend. Betty McCoy and her team did a great job, making sure the teachers and bands were well looked after and ironing out any problems for the participants. Already we are looking forward to next year.

Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow


Articles continue in Old News Volume 38.

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

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