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).
I took a trip with the Carlow-Laois gang,
We went down West Cork way.
The Westlodge Hotel in Bantry
Was where Eddie choose for us to stay.
The weekend was mighty,
Every night music song and dance.
When Liam spun us yarns
We nearly wet our pants.
Leslie was in fine voice,
Also Seamus and Jack.
This Carlow Laois gang are gifted
And always up for craic.
We danced ceili, sets and social.
Danny played magic music on his box.
We danced everything you could think of,
Almost danced off our socks.
Peter was our dance master,
He coaxed and prompted us along.
When the dancing tired us,
He called someone for a song.
We had trips to Garinish Island,
The Gougane Barra and to where
Michael Collins was slain.
Then over to Killarney,
Sunshine replaced the rain.
The hotel and staff were brilliant,
The cuisine was the best.
All our needs catered for,
Each one treated like a special guest.
Alas the weekend is now over,
We have all returned safely home.
Thank you all for having me -
It was one of the best weekends I've ever known.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Sounding as good as they did on the day they started, the Tulla Ceili Band is still going strong after sixty years. To mark the occasion, they have released a new cd appropriately entitled 60th Anniversary Celebration with sixteen selections. Most of these are reels, jigs and hornpipes by the full band, but two tracks of duets are also included. To add a special touch to the band's magic, Martin Hayes plays with the band and in a fiddle duet with Mark Donnellan.
New cds from the Tulla are rarities, issued only on their ten-year anniversaries, so get yourself a copy and bring their special musical lift home with you. Distribution is by Claddagh Records so it should be widely available.
Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh are a relatively new band on the ceili scene, but it didn't take them long to get established and become a favourite of dancers everywhere. There's a light and joyful touch to their music, yet it has fantastic energy and power to make dancers move.
The duo's music was well captured on their first cd, Live, and now a new cd called Play the Keys has just been released. The disk has music for four sets, a mix of the old (the Clare Lancers and the Ballyvourney Jig) and new (the Claddagh and Sliabh Fraoch sets). Excitement is included free with every copy. Get Play the Keys from Micheál and Pat at their ceilis or contact them for ordering information.
New ceili band debuts in Longford
A ceili at the '98 Hall, Ballinamuck, Co Longford, on July 21st was the special event which launched the new Annally Ceili Band onto the set dancing scene. The band has been newly formed by three lads from Longford-Sean Thompson (accordion), Sean Sweeney (banjo and vocals) and Brendan Daly (keyboard), all well-known and experienced traditional musicians.
The band played free of charge at the debut ceili, but the dancers would have been pleased to pay the going rate, such was the enthusiasm, excitement and atmosphere generated by the music. The band already have a busy autumn before them with ceilis booked for Athleague, Co Roscommon (September 8 and October 28), Ballinamuck (September 29) and Fleadh Portugal (October).
Celtic honour for Margaret
The Celtic Council of Australia has presented dance teacher Margaret Winnett of Sydney with its Cyfaill y Celtiad ("Friend of the Celts" in Welsh) award. This is awarded for distinguished service to the Celtic community. This is her second honour from the Council. Margaret is known thoughout Australia and rest of the Irish dancing world for her skilled and beautiful dancing, her teaching expertise and her love of all aspects of the tradition.
The honour entitles the recipient to the use of post-nominal initials, so if you see CyC after Margaret's name in future, you'll now know what it stands for.
"Needless to say, I was very moved by this award," said Margaret. Set Dancing News offers congratulations to her on behalf of all its readers.
I attended the set dancing weekend in the Stella Maris Community Centre in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, on 13th and 14th April. This was my first visit to this beautiful town and it certainly rates as one of the more pleasant and relaxing set dancing weekends that I have ever attended. Friday night's ceili got under way with the Waterford Comhaltas Ceili Band, and as usual these fine musicians did not disappoint the crowd. They have a lovely gentle way of playing that keeps you wanting more and more - no chasing the music at the expense of the dancing.
Saturday morning's workshop was given by that wonderful 'nature's gentleman,' Mick Mulkerrin, who was assisted by the beautiful dancer Deirdre Tobin. We did not want the demonstration set to finish because we just wanted to watch those two beautiful dancers perform. The now very popular Sliabh Fraoch Set was taught at the morning session, and as usual Mick went through each figure a couple of times until he was happy that everyone had it perfected. We finished up the morning workshop with Mick teaching us a few sean nós steps. Much to the delight of all present he finished the workshop with a fine demonstration of his skills as a master of sean nós dancing.
In the afternoon Mick taught one of his favourites, the Derradda Set, and we were fortunate to have the lovely 'nature's lady,' Ann O'Donnell, the Dublin teacher and caller, lend her help with the demonstration. Ann, being a Mayo woman, naturally agrees with Mick that it is indeed a lovely set. He finished the afternoon session with the Aran Set. This was another lovely set and it has only three figures so it could be learned easily if we danced it regularly at ceilis-we certainly could do with a bit more variety!
We were privileged to have that fine band Brian Ború playing for the Saturday night ceili. It's great to see their name appear at more and more venues around the country. A phrase I hear regularly from people who are hearing them for the first time is, "Aren't they brilliant?" There was a great buzz in the hall as we danced the night away to fine music. Connemara, Sliabh Luachra, Caledonian, Newport, Claddagh, Plain Set, Cashel, Mazurka and the Corofin were danced, and to the delight of the people who attended the workshop Mick called the Sliabh Fraoch. It was obvious looking around the hall which sets had attended the workshop! I think Mick was delighted with the result. The supper was surely a banquet and to quote John Doyle, fear an tí for the night, "An Army marches on its stomach," and they certainly had enough food to feed an army.
This set dancing weekend started ten years ago and the small committee work so hard to try and keep this weekend alive. It's sad to think that small scale set dancing weekends such as these are in danger owing to failing support. The bigger events seem to be taking over, and great as the huge shindigs, gatherings, fleadhs and cruises are, we need to support these smaller events or else they will die out, resulting in the loss of the intimacy and friendliness associated with the smaller gatherings.
I had conversations with people like Betty McCoy and Ann O'Donnell and they agree that set dancing as we know it now is in danger. Betty said she spoke to a number of dance teachers in Westport last November and they all expressed the same concern and said in a few short years, unless we attract more young dancers, that history will repeat itself and set dancing will die out. Ann O'Donnell is leading the way by going into a secondary school in Celbridge next September to teach set dancing to transition year students-well done Ann, maith thú. Ger Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy who run workshops for children at the Longford weekend are also fine role models. We have a number of fine young male teachers and dancers around the country, and if they follow their examples we may save the day yet.
One other source of joy about this weekend was the way John Doyle incorporated a cúpla focail (a couple of Irish words) when calling the sets at the ceilis. It occurred to me that it would be a very fitting way to honour our dear friend Donncha Ó Muíneacháin, go ndéana Dia trócaire air (may God have mercy on him) if more people who call sets would follow suit. We all know just how passionate Donncha was about our culture and language. How about dedicating a set anois is arís (now and then) at ceilis to Donncha and calling some of the more common phrases ás Gaeilge (in Irish)? Michael Loughnane is another great example; I always enjoy the ceilis in the Band Hall, Thurles, as I feel they are enhanced by his use of our beautiful native tongue. I have heard Pat Murphy in Germany and Switzerland saying, "Ar ais arís" (back again), and everyone getting up on the floor, and only about ten percent of the people there were Irish.
The beautiful town of Kilmore Quay is well worth a visit. Beidh mise ar ais arís, gan dabht! (I'll be back again, without a doubt.)
May you live all the days of your life.
Celia Gaffney, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
At long last, the 10th of March provided us with an exciting and eagerly expected premiere: the first public Irish ceili in Augsburg!
The Irish set dance group An Ciorcal and the Irish music group Next Friday had arranged it in an Augsburg church hall and eighty to 100 people accepted the invitation. "The place was bursting at its seams and the vibes were great" would describe the event in short.
An Ciorcal comprises around 20 enthusiasts who have been dancing along with Sabine Surholt as their tried and tested leader for more than seven years. She explained and called the dances with her usual easy-going manner, experience and good humour. All of the six musicians making up Next Friday come from the west of Augsburg. Having played together for five years now, they cover all the instruments important for Irish music, such as the bodhrán, uilleann pipes, tin whistle, flute, fiddle, guitar, melodeon and harp. Listening to the sweeping music nobody would stay on their seats for very long. Two-hand dances introduced people to the Irish way of dancing and led into complete set dances which some of them had certainly never danced in their lives before. Accompanied by the live music, people danced sets such as the Mazurka, Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, Cashel and Clare Lancers with much success. Everybody got an impression of how much sweat, but also how much fun, set dancing generates.
Between the sets there were spontaneous solo dance performances and instrumental music pieces played by Next Friday and other guest musicians. Michael Krebs sang Irish songs and inspired the audience with his talent as well as his impressive voice. The dancers could restore their energy with a variety of food and drink including the obligatory Guinness. For a good five hours people were dancing and enjoying themselves and stayed on until the evening was concluded by the traditional playing of the Irish national anthem.
So, we got what we expected: Irish music and dance means a lot of sweat but also loads of fun. It was a great evening for all those who like Irish culture, music and dance.
Ulrike Epp and Sabine Surholt Germany
For the 23rd year we had an Irish dancing weekend with Ian Hughes and Ursula Byrne from Wales on March 30th to April 1st. It took place in Freiburg for first nineteen years and in 2003 it moved to Erlangen in the heart of the Franconia region. It is now organised by me, my husband, Bernd Menzel, and the Erlanger Tanzhaus folk dance club.
Following the long tradition of alternating types of dance, the focus this year was ceili dancing. Ian and Ursula led us through an interesting and varied program. On Friday evening we got down to brass tacks. We started with the Cúchulainn Jig, went on to the Glencar Reel and finished off with the High-Cauled Cap. What a heavy program, but the participants danced all dances with much zeal.
Saturday morning started with step practice, which helped us to wake up our tired bones. After a recap of the High-Cauled Cap, we learned to dance the Eight-Hand Jig. Responding to many requests, Ian and Ursula showed us a few dances from Wales. Paul's Fancy and especially the Red House of Cardiff were a big success. We had to work hard and concentrate intensely, but it was really worth it. The music and figures of the dances brought much joy to all dancers. After the challenging workshop all were exhausted, but very proud and pleased. We had a nice break before the ceili to get our energy back.
The Swaree Ceili Band started the evening about 8pm. They played a variety of dances from the very easy to the more difficult ones. We had the Two-Hand Reel, Sweets of May, Clare Lancers, Red House of Cardiff, Glencar Reel, High-Cauled Cap, Paul's Fancy, Eight-Hand Jig and Ballyvourney Jig Set. Even though the evening's program was demanding, the music made everyone dance again and again and we had so much fun! The buffet took care of our refreshment. All in all it was a very delightful and social evening.
The end of the workshop came too soon on Sunday morning. For a few years we've had a special tradition: Ian shows a new dance he has created himself. The first of these was the Rose Jig to honour Roswitha Seidelmann who organised the weekend for the first nineteen years. Two years ago he showed the second dance, Mrs Byrne's Fancy, which was dedicated to his wife. This year he had a big surprise for us-his new, very nice four-hand dance is Kilian's Dream, is dedicated to our little son. Thank you Ian!
To sum it up, once again we had a wonderful and harmonious weekend with good conversation, much laughter and a lot of dancing. This Irish weekend is unique in a special way. We are looking forward to the weekend next year, 14th-16th March, when the subject will be set dancing, with a side trip for Welsh dancing. Above all we look forward to meeting Ursula and Ian, friends from here and abroad, and of course any new dancers, who are most welcome.
Sabine Menzel, Erlangen, Germany
Every year the dancers and musicians of the Irish Set Dancers Frankfurt get together at Burg Waldeck for a long weekend in mid April. The ruined castle (burg) stands at the edge of a steep valley an hour and a half south of Cologne and half an hour north of Hahn airport. The nearby hostels, well known to musicians in Germany, are nestled in a clearing of beech, oak and wild cherry woodlands covering a landscape dissected by deep valleys. At this time of year, wood anemone, fumitory and periwinkle carpet the woods, while cinquefoil, cowslip and stitchwort reflect the sun in the surrounding lawns.
In Frankfurt, a group of two or three sets led by Roland Hess, plus a small group of musicians, meet every Monday evening to experience the joy of set dancing and leave the cares of work behind. As a part of the university sports union, many young people come along to see what all the laughing and music is about, and of course to learn set dancing. Few realise quite how energetic it is!
To bring such a mobile group closer together, Vito Bilello organises the Burg Waldeck weekends, with help from many of us. There is no primary focus, unless you count being together as a focus. We cook for ourselves to keep costs down, and generally work together. Friday night is a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian dishes, while Saturday sees an Indian buffet with more than enough to fill the corners in the most hungry carnivore or vegetarian! Everyone gives a helping hand. A couple cook, some lay tables, others wash up, stories are told and laughter rings around the tables.
We started with fifteen people in the small hostel, and were up to 25 participants last year. The dance floor in the small hostel was cramped and left no option but to keep the sets tight. Looking enviously at the dance floor in the main hostel last year, we decided to hire it this year. Two strokes of luck came our way. Birgit Eder from our group is friends with Annie and Bert Moran from Schull, Co Cork, and had told them about our group. They had been kind enough to come over to Frankfurt for a mini-workshop last November. We enjoyed that and learned so much from Annie and Bert that we asked them if they would consider coming over for Burg Waldeck, even although it wasn't a formal workshop. They were interested and luckily for us, agreed to come.
In Frankfurt we have one problem-too many men, or too few ladies, depending on your point of view! It has even been known for men to dance as ladies to make a set complete. At the set dancing weekend in Karlsruhe last autumn, we chatted to some of the Jagst Valley Irish Set Dancers, and they have too few men. We invited them and seven came to join us with Annie and Bert. All in all, 39 of us were there over the weekend.
On Friday evening we had a fight with a giant gas stove, and finally managed to serve an apparently very passable meal, although rather later than intended. The musicians retired outside for a session and a group of dancers were taken under the wings of Annie and Bert. To warm up we started with the lively Ballyvourney Jig Set. Although often taught with the square danced with the lady and gent progressing side by side, Annie and Bert showed us how it was taught to them in West Cork, with the couple in waltz hold, sliding to the side and stepping back to the opposite. In the fourth figure our gents had been turning the lady before progressing to the next, and again Annie explained that although it is sometimes danced this way, the usual way is just to move directly on to the next lady.
The Black Valley Square Jig Set was next. Bert related how the Black Valley, a deep, steep-sided valley like those around Burg Waldeck, had once been a bustling community, but now is reduced to about sixty houses. A couple of simple two-hand dances allowed us to relax a little. To conclude the evening we practiced the body and first figure of the High-Cauled Cap. As interesting as the patterns are in this figure dance, we felt that the rest of it was better left to the next day so we could do it justice.
Dancing at an end for the evening, we sat around and chatted about set dancing in Ireland, the many ceilis, workshops and informal meetings. In the background, music from the group sitting outside wafted up through the clear evening air. A pause in the playing inspired Bert to bring out his accordion and treat us to some tunes. Only when he stopped did the music outside start again.
Saturday started early for those preparing breakfast. Tables had to be laid, the buffet laid out, mountains of fruit turned into fruit salad, and Scottish-Polish scrambled eggs (stiffly beaten with double cream, butter and chives) made in batches. Coffee and tea were in high demand. When no one could eat another morsel, some went off to walk through the valleys under a blue, sunny sky, and some went onto the dance floor to learn more from Annie and Bert.
The Newport Set kept us occupied with its three figures for a good part of the morning. We took Bert's friendly advice of holding our caps behind our backs in the hornpipe figure! Annie and Bert practiced some steps with us to improve our techniques.
A cold buffet lunch was laid out and many went outside to the trestle tables to soak up the warmth. The cooks went off to start the preparation for the Indian buffet. Annie and Bert took the dancers through all the intricacies of the High-Cauled Cap. The Haymakers Jig gave the dancers a mental pause and a chance to let off some steam.
A buffet of Cantonese soup, beef shahi korma, chicken with cream, assorted vegetarian dishes and raitas, popadoms and fresh parathas greeted everyone promptly at 7pm. After dinner, most of us went up for a small ceili with our musicians. A lively Ballyvourney Reel Set started us off, and just to make sure that our feet didn't get cold, it was followed by the Clare Lancers. Annie and Bert called the Labasheeda Set to give us a welcome variation. The Cashel Set completed our set dancing for the evening. We rounded off the dancing with the Chapeloise and Circassian Circle, two dances that all our novices and visitors find relaxing after learning new sets.
While we had been dancing, others had built a glowing bonfire to which we all retired. Allowed at last a cool Chardonnay, warming Tempranillo or tot of Uisge Beathe, we contemplated the day's events, tried to remember old songs, were absorbed by the cloudless, starlit night, and thoughts of days gone by when the world was much younger.
After a slow Sunday breakfast, it was time for the five figures of the Williamstown Set. Under the expert guidance of Annie, we managed to dance a very enjoyable set to close the weekend.
Everyone in the Frankfurt group and from the Jagst Valley would like to thank Annie and Bert for all their efforts in making Burg Waldeck a weekend to remember.
Andrew C Podzorski,Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Leaving Bantry, Co Cork, at 7pm; driving non-stop to north Co Dublin to arrive in Portmarnock by 11pm; dancing till 1am; leaving again to drive back to Cork to be in time for work at 8am-that was the dedication and loyalty of just one of the dancers who came to the Remembering Donncha Ceili on 24th March 2007 in Portmarock, Co Dublin.
Outside the Naomh Mearnóg clubhouse, a team of GAA men in hi-viz jackets directed traffic in the carpark, and on to the pitches-thanks for the fine weather, Donncha! Although not scheduled to begin until 9.30pm, the first seats were taken before 9 and very soon after that there were no more available. Dancers and friends thronged the hall and spilled over into the adjoining ball alley-where there was a place to sit, take time out and sip tea-and the upstairs bar-where musicians, singers and dancers entertained into the small hours.
Bunches of yellow daffodils decorated the clubhouse, especially the tables in the ball alley. Lavish raffle prizes-resplendent in their straw hampers and glistening cellophane-which were donated by so many well-wishers, decorated two long tables. All around the walls were huge posters celebrating the international aspect of this event, listing the sessions, ceilis and tributes taking place at venues throughout the world from Clare to Cape Cod, from Manchester, England, to Melbourne in Australia. There was also a sample of emails sent from far-flung corners of the globe to give a flavour of the extent of the remembrance, read out during the course of the ceili as a breather between the sets. The first dance was the Sweets of May-the dance Donncha always started his ceilis with-and the floor was thronged from then until the Sixteen-Hand Reel at the end of the night, with plenty of sets in between.
The music by Swallow's Tail was sweet, powerful and energising, and their rendition of Donncha's Slide, a piece composed by Bill Black of Cape Cod, was greeted with great enthusiasm by the dancers. A framed parchment of this music was presented to Donncha's wife, Helen Uí Mhuíneacháin, along with the framed personal greeting to all present on this occasion from Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland), Mary McAleese. There was total attention given by the huge gathering to the words spoken by Siobhán Ní Mhuíneacháin, Donncha and Helen's daughter, on behalf of the family. A few gentle tears were shed, but more in remembrance and gratitude for Donncha's life than in sadness and grief at his loss.
At exactly midnight, hundreds and hundreds took to the floor for the two-hand dances-the Two-Hand Reel, Two-Hand Jig, Peeler and the Goat and Shoe the Donkey. Our thoughts were with all the other dancers who were doing the same thing in distant places at the same time, and our energies joining with theirs in creating a huge surge which must have registered on the Milky Way! There was great co-operation and enthusiasm shown by those worldwide who organised events remembering Donncha and fundraising at the same time for local charities. The worthy cause, always dear to Donncha's heart and chosen by the organising committee to be the recipients of the funding from the Portmarnock ceili, was the St Francis Hospice in Raheny, Dublin. A new day care ambulance needed by the hospice looks like coming to reality very soon as this Portmarnock ceili alone brought in over €20,000!
The lasting memories of this event will always be the sight of enthusiastic, exuberant dancers, joyous music, great fun and camaraderie shared by many who had come across Donncha over the years and who joined together to remember him at this ceili.
Rhóda Uí Chonaire
Donncha's tri-state memorial
On March 9th, 2007, the Donncha Memorial Ceili was held at the Irish Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The ceili was held on the night of our usual second Friday monthly sets ceili.
The evening began with a workshop on the Ballycommon Set and several two-hand dances by Jim Ryan and Eileen Pyle. There were sixty-plus dancers from the various dance classes in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The night was charged with excitement as the dancers danced their favorite sets, waltzes, quick steps and two-hands.
Memories of Donncha were brought about by pictures and by people who had attended his workshops in earlier years at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield and the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown.
We took the opportunity to memorialize our dancers who have passed away in recent years. Lists compiled by John Shields and Cass Tinney were placed on tables giving everyone the chance to refresh their memories.
Proceeds from the dance and other donations amounted to . Anna Hickman, who dances with Shanagolden Dancers, Palmyra, New Jersey, has just received an award for 1000 hours of volunteer work with the Samaritan Hospice, Marlton, New Jersey. We chose to donate the money to Samaritan in memory of Donncha because of his generosity to hospices.
We have decided to make this memorial ceili an annual event in memory of Donncha, with the proceeds going to another charity.
Cass Tinney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
For the third consecutive year, southern Utah was represented at the Gathering Festival in Killarney-by yours truly! As I've discovered during the last ten years, life in southern Utah certainly has a lot to offer, but not Irish traditional music or set dancing-unless you start a set dance class, which I did nearly three years ago, with the help of Ossian's Come Dance With Me In Ireland videos. Forming a ceili band is a longer-term challenge, so we step it out to Matt Cunningham's Dance Music of Ireland twelve CD box set. So far we've had hours of fun with the Connemara, Corofin Plain, Clare Orange and Green and Clare Lancers sets, and performed them for local events.
To back up a few years, I was born in Birmingham (UK not Alabama) and was blessed with strong genes in the music and dance department. As a pre-teen I enjoyed traditional dance classes at the local church hall-square dances, barn dances, the Gay Gordons and so on. The bug struck again years later, when, donning bell pads and a stout willow staff, I ruined many a quiet Sunday lunch scene at Somerset country pubs with rowdy Cotswold Morris dancing.
It wasn't until I was living in Utah that I took my first pilgrimage to the west of Ireland-and how I could kick myself that I hadn't visited while I lived in England. Now, six annual visits later, I'm getting really good at finding music sessions or set dancing every night of the trip. I may have set the record for the number of consecutive nights of set dancing on this year's February visit! And some grand sessions to remember too! Having had such an orgy of set dancing this time, I'm pleased to be able to share with you some ideas for ramblin' around the west of Ireland, and enjoying wonderful music, dancing and hospitality-even in February.
The first trip was six summer days in Donegal with a great session at the Cúl a' Dúin pub in Teelin (at the time part-owned by Altan members Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Dermot Byrne)-great box playing by Johnny Connolly of Connemara. My 21-year-old daughter was treated to a compliment whispered in her ear by an elderly local, "And how many hearts have you broken?" Researching the second trip, I found the October Willie Keane Festival in Doonbeg, Co Clare. Mary Clancy taught the set dancing workshop on the Saturday morning-and I was hooked. Next year I followed up on the hot tip-the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, during the first week in July. 'Willie Week' has it all-morning workshops for musicians and dancers, superb pub sessions every afternoon and evening, and as many ceilis as your feet will permit. One afternoon, Cleary's Bar (if you could squeeze through the front door) had a packed session in the front bar, a session at the back around the kitchen table with Alec Finn, Sean Ryan, Kathleen Loughnane, etc, and another in the back yard with set dancing (Jackie Daly and friends). That's where I heard about the Gathering-and with a name like that, I had to come back to experience it myself the next February.
Utah is a long way from Ireland, but thanks to Aer Lingus' winter rates and special offers, I can fly from New York to Shannon or Dublin amazingly cheaply, especially in February. Don't forget to pack the Rough Guide to Ireland which I've relied on for tips on traditional music venues and B&Bs throughout the year. The last three trips were in February, with the Gathering Festival in Killarney as the centrepiece.
Galway city made an excellent first base, with many pubs offering quality traditional music-the Crane Bar, Tigh Choili, etc-and set dancing at Monroe's Pub and nearby Oranmore. After a couple of days relaxing and steeping in good music, I headed for the dance workshop weekend in Spiddal, a short hop from Galway. Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey taught the Saturday workshops-the Williamstown Set and the Aran Set, and a brush-up on the advance and retire steps for the Caledonian Set. On previous trips I'd heard comments about the repetitive figures in the Caledonian, but learning the right steps from Mick and Mairéad showed me what a lovely dance it is, and how it encapsulates the essence of the Clare style. I really enjoy learning the specific style and steps of each dance as it makes the experience so much richer. Many teachers now are sharing their knowledge of the traditional steps (and music) and hopefully correcting the tendency at ceilis for everything to be danced the same, with jumps, turns and steps that have no place in the particular dance tradition. That's my little lecture! The Saturday evening saw us around a roaring peat fire with Johnny Connolly and Mick Mulkerrin on box and rousing songs from the floor. We were spoilt for choice as we moved on to dance to the Tulla Ceili Band at the community hall - a fine evening's craic.
Next morning Pádraic Ó hOibicín taught sean nós steps, the afternoon ceili featured Johnny Connolly and friends, and the weekend was topped off by a lovely intimate session at Tigh Hughes with Charlie Lennon and friends. A perfect end to a memorable weekend.
Unlike previous trips, this one was about set dancing predominantly. With a rental car, my idea was to spend each day exploring the west coast (mainly the gorgeous peninsulas of Kerry and West Cork), hiking on the Burren (weather permitting - which it rarely did this time) and enjoying the outstanding scenery of the coastline. This February was unusually wet, so more exploring was done by car - nearly 2,500 km. The winter colors of rusty brown bracken fern, the red twigs and white bark of the birches, and the yellow-flowering gorse were lovely to behold. When the sun did break through, the emerald green fields came alive. And of course water everywhere in various forms - sea, stream, lake, bog, mist and horizontal rain. But each evening I would relish the warmth and hospitality of the local session or ceili.
I was fortunate to be around for the monthly barn dance at Cluain Ceoil, Watergrasshill, Co Cork, with music in February by Tim Joe O'Riordan and Ger Murphy on loan from the Abbey Ceili Band. Michael Murphy has been holding these dances since 1991 in the farm barn that he converted with a sprung dance floor. (The Céilí House radio program was broadcast from there in 2000 with the excellent Taylor's Cross Ceili Band.) I was given a wonderful spontaneous welcome, and as the usual local B&Bs were closed, Michael offered me a room in his farmhouse. The evening's dancing was great fun, with enough dancers to fill ten sets. We danced the Mazurka, Sliabh Luachra, Caledonian, Ballyvourney Jig, Corofin Plain, Clare Plain, Borlin, Connemara, Labasheeda and Claddagh - ten sets in total, with copious cups of tea, sandwiches and cakes to keep up the energy.
That was the Saturday night. The regular practice night was on the Monday, so I spent the next day around Kinsale, and headed to Knocknagree for their regular set dancing night, not realising that the Mallow postal address is very misleading - it's actually miles away westwards on the Kerry border. I got a friendly welcome at Dan O'Connell's pub, help to find a B&B-the nearest was in Millstreet - and a restful evening enjoying the relaxed local dancing style. Back to Watergrasshill on the Monday, where we had five sets and all of them different dances from the Saturday night - Killyon, Newport, Cashel, Portmagee, West Kerry, Paris and Ballyvourney Reel sets, the Cadhp (High-Cauled Cap), Stack of Barley, and Shoe the Donkey. As you can tell, Michael teaches an impressive range of dances and attracts a faithful group of regulars. He's an exceptional dancer and teacher, who delights in sharing the traditional steps and essence of each dance. Thank you, Michael, for such a great time.
Driving back westwards for Killarney, I passed through Kanturk (Jackie Daly's town) and was surprised it's twinned with Kosovo; started thinking about Boulder, Utah, twinning with Watergrasshill or another set dancing mecca. I was bound for the Grand Hotel, Killarney, where not only was local favourite Johnny Reidy playing the regular Wednesday night ceili, but it was the Grand's owners' ten-year anniversary. What a night of fast and furious Kerry dancing with the impressive local dancers - the perfect warm - up for the Gathering! It was my third year, and I was looking forward to the dance workshops with Pat Murphy, another Johnny Reidy ceili and Dervish for the final 'scattering' concert. Pat Murphy's workshop was excellent, with the Aherlow Set and Sliabh Fraoch Set in the morning, and the Clare Orange and Green Set and Loughgraney Set in the afternoon. The two-hand workshop on the Sunday morning introduced us to many lovely dances including the Killarney Waltz. Bill Lynch's article in the April-May issue goes into more detail on this exceptional festival. It's always exceeded expectations for me. It was just as well that I'd been in training for the previous two weeks, as by the end of it I had danced for countless hours over the five-day period. And we are talking about Kerry dancing to local ceili bands - that's high energy stuff! It's exhilarating to be able to join in with it. Not sure we're quite ready for that in southern Utah!
So many wonderful memories from three weeks in southwestern Ireland - scenery, local hospitality, Irish humour, old friends and always new friends, music everywhere and, of course, set dancing. I'm already looking forward to the next visit.
Tim Clarke, Boulder, Colorado
The beautiful four-star Seaview Hotel and adjoining Aura Hotel in San Antonio on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Ibiza became a haven of Irish music, dancing, singing and good old Irish craic as thousands gathered to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Fleadh Ibiza from April 16th to April 30th. Banners, balloons, flags and champagne greeted holidaymakers, as organiser Gerry Flynn and his Enjoy Travel staff ensured that this festival would remain in the memory and hearts of all who had gathered here to share in this special anniversary fleadh.
I was among the first batch of festival-goers to arrive on Monday. I quickly settled in and was soon enjoying the fabulous sunshine that seemed to arrive to meet us as it had been raining the previous week. I enjoyed coffee and a chat by the pool and greeted the next lot of arrivals. Soon the complex was buzzing with everyone chatting and catching up with old friends.
With dinner eaten from the superb buffet I was ready for dancing and a good night. The lounge area in the Seaview Hotel was the place to be and I danced to the wonderful singing of Nathan Carter followed by Irene and Tom. Then we had Danny Webster on stage to get the set dancers really going. In the three hours we danced all the usual sets, a High-Cauled Cap and a number of two-hand dances. The night concluded with a mighty Ballyvourney Jig. Twenty sets had danced non-stop and all were eagerly looking forward to the weeks ahead.
Tuesday morning after Mass crowds gathered by the pool where the gentle giant of Mayo set dancing, Mickey Kelly, was in full flight for a workshop. We had twenty sets dancing the lovely Derradda Set. There were quite a few beginners but Mickey soon put them at ease and nurtured them. The workshop concluded with a selection of two-hand dances, including the St Bernard Waltz and Back to Back Hornpipe.
This year a nostalgic marquee was set up especially for set dancers. The well-constructed wooden floor was a dream to dance on. Mike Mahony gave his first set dancing workshop here and did the Clare Orange and Green Set. We had eight sets all enjoying this versatile little set.
At 4.30pm in the afternoon we were back outside by the pool on the wooden floor dancing our first outdoor ceili with Forty Shillings Ceili Band on stage. We danced the Derradda from the morning workshop and also the two-hand dances we covered. The music was magic and the dancing a dream. I counted thirty sets all revelling in the electric atmosphere of this super ceili.
Set dancers had a great night's dancing in the marquee. The heavenly Four Courts Ceili Band played for the first two hours then the Copperplate Ceili Band for the second two hours-four hours of brilliant music and dancing. The sets included the Kilfenora, Claddagh and Clare Orange and Green. Those with energy left over strolled the short distance to the Cellar Bar to welcome the dawn while dancing to Curtis Magee.
The first dancing on Wednesday morning was by the pool at a workshop on the Killyon Set given by Frank Keenan. Aidan Vaughan, the Four Courts' drummer, gave a short workshop in sean nós and Clare battering steps. Over in the marquee, Clement Gallagher gave a fíor céilí workshop for over 100 dancers. The Seaview lounge hosted a jive workshop for 60 dancers given by that magic young Co Mayo dancer Seamus Melvin. Then Kathleen McGlynn held her sean nós workshop in the marquee. I paid a quick visit and counted almost 100 dancers having a ball. When the jive workshop finished in the lounge, ballroom dancing tuition began under the expert guidance of Tom and Noreen Carter.
Many set dancers had taken the day tour on a ceili cruise with session musicians along to provide the music. The catamaran sailed leisurely down the west coast of Ibiza and visited a restaurant on Cala Conta beach. I was told that lunch was finger licking good as the place is usually booked up by the locals.
The afternoon workshop was held in the ballroom of the Aura Hotel. Mickey Kelly put us through our paces with the East Mayo Set. We had five sets to begin with but the numbers quickly grew to ten.
Nicky James entertained the sun worshipers by the pool and soon set dancers gathered for the afternoon ceili with music by the Four Courts. I had a mighty Ballyvourney with John Joe Geraghty from Westport as my dancing partner.
With dinner eaten and dolled up for the night I called in to see Mick Mackey and the Bushwhackers as they set up for another night's session. This facet of the festival has grown in popularity due in no small way to Mick Mackey and all the wonderful musicians, singers, storytellers and yarn spinners who gather in the name of Irish tradition.
The first half of the ceili tonight saw Danny Webster on stage in the marquee. Music for the second half was by Forty Shillings Ceili Band. We danced a lovely Ballyduff and Sliabh Luachra. Social dancers and late night set dancers stepped it out to Tony Stevens, Curtis Magee and the Galway Bay Jazz Band and in the cellar Pat Jordan.
Thursday morning in brilliant sunshine by the pool 25 sets gathered for Mike Mahony's workshop on the South Galway and Kilfenora sets. Mike is a excellent teacher and explains each step and move so that even a total beginner is confident and comfortable. The jive, ballroom, sean nós and ceili workshops were packed to capacity.
Another large group of holidaymakers left for a day trip on the Ibiza Express. This special train travelled down lanes (there are no railways in Ibiza) into the countryside through almond groves, amid orange and lemon trees, vineyards and villages. On the return journey after lunch they visited the village of Santa Agnes and its beautiful church. The crowds who took the trip were raving about it.
Sean Wilson was just starting to perform by the pool for social dancing as I made my way to the marquee for Frank Keenan's workshop. I was delighted when he decided to do the Sliabh Fraoch Set. We had eight sets gathered and Frank was meticulous in his instruction.
Back by the pool at 4pm the Copperplate Ceili Band took the stage. We danced the sets from the morning workshop. The music lifted our feet and our souls. Dancing outdoors is surely as near to dancing in heaven as we can get on this earth.
Thursday night in the Seaview saw Irene and Tom in the lounge and the Barry Doyle Duo in the ballroom. Danny Webster provided the music for a fíor céilí in the Aura ballroom. Set dancers danced the night away in the marquee to Forty Shillings followed by the Four Courts. It was nice that the Mazurka and Sliabh Luachra sets were included. Mick Mackey and friends were just finishing the session when I took a walk just before the end of the ceili.
Friday morning at the poolside I counted thirty sets all enjoying the workshop on the Newport Set with Mickey Kelly. In addition to the sean nós, ceili, jive and ballroom tuition, music tutorials were given by Geraldine McGlynn and Jimmy McLoughlin every morning by the poolside at the Aura Hotel.
Today's day-trippers went on the New Zealand invasion, a full day out in Ibiza town. I was told that the morning was spent in the old part of Ibiza town with its fortress, cobbled streets, pretty houses, shops and castle. Lunch was in a beautiful setting in the hills in a restaurant called New Zealand where the pork was slowly cooked in a Maori oven.
Jackie Nelson was in fine country and western voice as I left the poolside to attend Mike Mahony's workshop in the marquee. We danced the Claddagh Set by popular demand as some dancers were still unsure of the cross chain in the third figure. Mike spent a lot of time and attention on this figure and even those dancing only a short time grasped this chain with the expert tuition. We had a small bit of time left over and danced the first figure of the Clare Orange and Green Set. Nathan Carter was just finishing his gig as we collected back at the poolside for our afternoon ceili with the Forty Shillings Ceili Band.
The marquee tonight held the fíor céilí with Danny Webster while set dancers gathered in the main ballroom of the Seaview. We had the Four Courts for the first half and Copperplate for the second. We danced a lovely Sliabh Luachra and West Kerry. Trevor Moyles, Galway Bay Jazz Band and Owen Condon kept social dancers happy and some set dancers slipped between the venues for an odd waltz, quickstep or tango.
At the Saturday morning workshop by the pool Frank Keenan taught the lovely Fermanagh Set. We had 25 sets all enjoying the dancing and sunshine. All the workshops were run at the same time thus giving everyone a mind-boggling choice of ballroom, ceili, sean nós, jive, sequence dancing and music.
An air of excitement filled the hotel foyer for the final day trip, which began at the church of San Jose, then down to the salt flats, the resort of Santa Eulalia and Las Dalias, the original hippy market in San Carlos. Lunch was eaten in San Miguel. I met some of the group as they returned loaded with shopping and they were delighted with the trip.
For the afternoon workshop Mickey Kelly danced the Paris Set from Co Clare. He mentioned that he first learned this set from his great friend Connie Ryan. Irene and Tom were still performing by the pool as set dancers grabbed the opportunity to have a jive or a quickstep before the afternoon ceili began. With the mighty Four Courts we had a super ceili; the sets danced included the South Galway, Derrada and Fermanagh. We had a special treat when the Galmoy Set Dancers led by Mick and Kay Doyle gave us their customary display of the Slate Quarry Lancers Set. Mick Doyle said he was delighted to dance this set in memory of his great friend Sean Dempsey.
The first ceili of the night was in the marquee with Copperplate Ceili Band on stage, and the second was in the Seaview ballroom with Forty Shillings Ceili Band. Dancers moved easily between the ballroom, lounge and cellar with Tony Stevens, the Clubmen and Dermot Hegarty performing.
Sunday was a special day with Mass in the open air with brilliant sunshine to warm us. The sounds of music, song and prayers mingled to make it a joyful occasion. Prayers were offered for ill and deceased dancers, tutors, musicians, performers and their families. A special prayer was offered for Tom and Marie Flood on the recent sad loss of their newborn son Michael. Mass concluded with Micheál Sexton playing My Father's Tune.
With Mass over Sam Doherty got us all dancing. It was wonderful to see everyone joining in. You could easily pick out those who had been taking ballroom and jive classes. The talent show got underway with Curtis Magee and Michael Cleary as hosts. We have come to expect a very high standard of performance from our festivalgoers over the years and we were not disappointed.
The variety and standard was excellent. The winning performance was a dance routine by Sean Duggan and mother and daughter Catherine and Jenny Tully from Co Longford. The fancy dress parade was a treat to the eye, most imaginative and entertaining, and was won by two children from north London, Theo McKeon and Alia McVeigh.
The most exciting event of the evening was the grand prize draw for a ticket for two on a world tour in February 2008. The winner was Ann Ferrencombe from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. The evening competitions concluded with wet sets in the pool; June Carter led the winners from Co Laois.
Tonight was sixties night and some people made an all-out effort to go back in time. Eamonn Donnelly from Copperplate was almost unrecognisable with his long grey locks. The final of the waltzing competition took place at 11pm and Colm Gallen from Donegal and his dancing partner Teresa Muldowney from Co Mayo scooped the prize.
The last ceili in the marquee was packed. Forty Shillings Ceili Band were joined by Micheál Sexton and members of the Four Courts and Copperplate; the music was heavenly. The second half of the ceili in the Seaview ballroom began with the Four Courts but all the ceili musicians got involved as the night moved on. If they weren't on stage, they were dancing sets. I could safely say every member of the ceili bands danced sets during the week, proving what a gifted and talented group of people we had the pleasure of sharing company with. The grand finale to the first week's festival was a mega fireworks display.
Some people had early flights home the following day but that did not deter them from celebrating, applauding and singing the praises of the superb week that they had spent on Spanish soil. As coach loads left the hotels a certain degree of loneliness hung in the air. Very soon this was replaced with the laughter, cheer and anticipation of the new arrivals. Hundreds more holidaymakers joined the thousand who had remained. The second week took off like a kite.
Mickey Kelly kept the set dancers happy with his workshop by the pool. Ten sets had a good morning dancing the Claddagh Set, Back to Back Hornpipe and lovely Sweetheart Waltz. As the next batch of newcomers arrived and settled in, Sharon Turley entertained us, followed by Nathan Carter. Then it was time for our afternoon ceili. Danny Webster gave us fine music to keep our feet tapping.
In the ballroom of the Seaview Hotel we had the Clare music of the Four Courts for the first half and then the magic twosome, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh took the stage. We were spoiled for music.
Tuesday morning Mickey Kelly was busy once more with a class of twenty sets by the pool. Many of these dancers were new to set dancing. We danced the Derradda Set and Pride of Erin Waltz. After the welcome meeting for the new arrivals Mickey concluded his workshop with the Waltz Country Dance. Ballroom tuition was held in the marquee and the Seaview lounge saw dancers happily jiving with Seamus Melvin. Jim Barry had just arrived and gave the afternoon set dance workshop on the Caragh Lake Jig Set. This was Jim's second year instructing at this festival.
The outdoor ceili by the pool got underway at 4.30pm with Copperplate Ceili Band on stage-the music and dancing was mega. We had 25 sets full of energy and enthusiasm.
Set dancers danced the night away in the marquee to the music of Swallow's Tail followed by the Copperplate. Many of the set dancers who remained for the second week took advantage of the numerous country and western artists and big bands for some social dancing. Eddie Lee of the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band and Catriona O'Sullivan gave a super performance until 3am in the cellar.
Wednesday morning by the pool Frank Keenan decided to do the Sliabh Luachra Set. The local television station visited the complex and recorded aspects of the fleadh. They filmed dancers and musicians and interviewed Gerry Flynn and myself as the Set Dancing News correspondent. The footage was shown on Spanish national television on Friday evening.
The afternoon set dancing workshop was held in the marquee and Mickey Kelly did The Paris Set. The afternoon ceili was packed with dancers as the Four Courts took the stage. Today was definitely a day of surprises and celebrations. We had a special happy birthday for Frances McDonagh from the Aran Islands who gave us a short demonstration of his sean nós dancing. Mick and Kay Doyle led the Galmoy Set Dancers in a hurley dance. This was a colourful dance with dancers dressed in numerous different county jerseys and holding hurleys.
That night the marquee came alive to set dancers dancing to Swallow's Tail followed by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. The midnight hour saw the Seaview ballroom packed with everyone eager to see Showaddywaddy. This band was a real blast from the past and those who were sixties and seventies children revelled in the performance.
Thursday morning by the pool Jim Barry danced the Clare Lancers in a beginners workshop. It was wonderful to see experienced dancers lending a hand to beginners in almost every set. Jim concluded the workshop with the Ruby Waltz. At the afternoon workshop given by Frank Keenan in the marquee we danced the Sliabh Fraoch by popular demand. At 4.30pm the platform by the pool filled with set dancers enjoying the music of Copperplate. The ceili concluded with the wonderful young Co Clare dance team, Diabhlaiocht Na Hoige, dancing the Plain Set. These young dancers won the main prize for set dancing at the Sean Dempsey Set Dancing Festival last October in Manchester. Their prize was a week's holiday in Ibiza.
Friday morning by the pool Mickey Kelly and twenty sets danced the Plain Set followed by two-hand dances. The afternoon was a dream. Accordion great Fintan Stanley then took the stage. Micheál Sexton joined him for a few tunes, then P J Murrihy sang two songs. The afternoon concluded by the pool with Swallows Tail playing for the ceili.
The Aura ballroom was packed to capacity at 9pm for the Loughree Theatre Group performing Run for Your Wife, a hilarious comedy by Ray Cooney. In the story a Dublin taxi driver has two wives and a precise schedule for coping with them. There was both tension and humour in this adult comedy. Copperplate and the Four Courts kept set dancers busy in the marquee.
Those eager for dancing Saturday morning gathered once more by the pool where Frank Keenan gave his last workshop of the festival on the Sliabh Luachra Set. Mickey Kelly held his afternoon set dancing workshop in the marquee, dancing the Newport Set.
I took a break from dancing to have a brief chat with Seamus Melvin, who was teaching rock and roll and jiving during the two weeks to large crowds. Seamus has given a few jiving workshops around Ireland. Jerry O'Rourke invited him to the Listowel weekend last October and he's been invited to The World Fleadh in Portlaoise in August and the Longford weekend in November. This young man hails from Ballina, Co Mayo, and demonstrates his dances with his wife Linda and friend FidelmaMcCarney. He also loves his set dancing and teaches a class in Foxford. Seamus has a lovely way about him and a gentle style of teaching.
For the remainder of Saturday evening set dancers took over the pool area and danced to the fine music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh.
The Seaview lounge was packed tonight for the semi-final of the waltzing competition. The main ballroom had everyone dancing to the music and singing of Eddie Lee and Catriona O'Sullivan, followed by Johnny Carroll and his golden trumpet. The Four Courts followed by Danny Webster kept set dancers moving in the marquee.
The last day of the festival had arrived all too soon. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky as we had our open air Mass. Like last Sunday we had a procession, this time with the Galmoy Set Dancers in their costumes for the hurley dance and the winning set from the Manchester festival in their uniforms.
After Mass we had another exhibition of the hurley dance followed by the young Co Clare set, Diabhlaiocht Na Hoige.
The outright talent show winner was Kieran White from Co Offaly who sang a country song. The dazzling fancy dress parade was won by Mary Ryan and Jack O'Brien from Co Cork, and the lucky winner of the February world tour was Kevin Farrell from Co Longford. The buck waltz was a laugh; Joe Naughton from Co Meath and John Reidy from Co Clare scooped the prize. The Co Tyrone set led by Timmy Carroll won the wet set in the pool.
The marquee took on a different emphasis tonight as social dancers gathered to relive yesterday. With a mineral bar, tea and cake promised, hackney drivers entering free and Father Murphy making sure that the ladies sat at one side and the gents at the other, the theme was set. The Enjoy Travel Band went on first, followed by Tony Stevens. Most of the numerous artists on the trip gave a short performance. The place was abuzz and the night was brilliant. I rushed back to the main ballroom to dance a few sets to the exuberant music of Copperplate and Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh.
I was delighted to be present in the lounge area for the final of the waltzing competition. What panache and style-the standard was the best I have ever seen at this festival. The winning couple were Mary McGrath from Tyrone and Eamonn Rogers from Galway. All dancing came to an end at 11.30pm as we gathered for the superb fireworks display. What a grand conclusion to a heavenly festival! Even though many including myself had early flights, we were slow in retiring. Some just stayed up chatted, told yarns and had a song or two for good measure.
This year's fleadh surpassed all expectation. We had music, dancing, singing, drama, concerts, music lessons and the longest list of dance classes of all time. The dance tutors, musicians and artists amongst the best in the world. The venue is spectacular and the food and choice at all times mouth-wateringly good. All who travelled to this fleadh will have brilliant memories of a superb celebration and the height of praise for Fleadh Ibiza and its organisers. Now that the first decade of Fleadh Ibiza has been celebrated let us all plan to be back in Ibiza for all of the next ten fleadhs.
Joan Pollard Carew
Fleadh Ibiza 2007
Geography lessons from the past very seldom ring a bell,
The whereabouts of Ibiza I could not tell.
The location of that island I can never forget
Since we first went there to dance a set.
Once again it's Fleadh Ibiza with its music and craic.
It's the 10th anniversary and we all went back.
From Birmingham to Manchester we travelled by coach.
After a two and a half hour flight Ibiza we did next approach.
The flight was smooth and we gently touched down.
Soon we were close to San Antonio town.
The hotel was near by it was our base,
Accommodation and entertainment in the one place.
We met lots of friends old and new,
Discussed forthcoming events and what we would do.
As regards every event and go into detail,
I won't attempt to discuss, as my memory would fail.
There was music and dancing, concerts and song,
From early morning and all night long.
For those blessed with dancing feet,
The dance teachers each morning by the swimming pool would greet.
Without further ado they would soon settle in.
Serious teaching would immediately begin.
The teachers would pace the floor up and down, over and back,
Missing nobody, keeping everyone on track.
They taught many dances with passion and flair.
The classes were well attended and many were there.
For many it was an opportunity to stroll down memory lane,
When nostalgic memories came flooding back,
The sixties the show bands, the marquee and the craic.
At Fleadh Ibiza we once again had that chance
To revisit the marquee and at our leisure dance.
For events and entertainment we were spoiled for choice,
But on Father Fred we had to rely for spiritual advice.
Perhaps the most important event of all
Was Mass every morning in the main dance hall.
For many it was the perfect start to each passing day
To attend Mass which Father Fred would celebrate and reverently say.
I don't think I have much more to add to this rhyme,
I have already taken up enough of time.
I will finish now by saying, long may Fleadh Ibiza continue and run.
Thanks to Gerry Flynn for the festival in the sun.
James Garry, Bristol, England
Sun, sea, sand, sets, sweet, sweat-you name it, we had it. Wow, what a weekend! It all kicked off on Friday night, March 30th, when set dancers from all over the country and abroad started to pile in the door of Clonea Strand Hotel, situated on a beach a few miles east of Dungarvan, Co Waterford. The ceili was set to start at 9pm. The Brian Ború band were already on stage and eager to impress the sunny southeast with their lovely style of music. Soon the floor was full of dancers who wanted to release some energy; they were not disappointed. The weekend was now in full flight. Set after set was danced with a break for a cup of tea and a few buns, which were just the business for these hard working people. Now no time to waste-back dancing for round two. Nine delightful sets plus some lovely waltzes were danced, bringing the first night of the weekend to a very successful conclusion.
So begins Saturday morning, which starts off with our first workshop of the weekend. Carmel Kearns is no stranger to teaching set dancing; she does so every week in Wicklow for the last twenty years, a true professional. Like us all, this lady never forgets her roots. A native of Co Clare, it shines through during her classes as she often refers to how it is danced in the west. The dancers arrived duly on time for the early morning workshop. The Sliabh Fraoch was going to be our first set to challenge the brain. A beauty of a set, Carmel put us through our paces and was delighted with the fast progress. Our next set was the Aran and again things are going really well. With ten sets on the floor and the sun shining down on the beach outside the front door, we are ploughing through our duties. A break for dinner, and back on the floor for the Fermanagh Quadrilles. The evening is rounded off with that lovely two-hand dance the Mississippi Dip.
Home to shower now and a cuppa, then it's time to look forward to the next round of this marvellous weekend. Things are going great. Everybody is happy so far. Tom Flood pulls up at the door of the hotel and reassures me that all is under control. The Glenside are on stage-we are ready to start our second ceili. The Sliabh Luachra gets the dancers off to a flyer, quickly followed by the Sliabh Fraoch-Carmel directs us true without a hitch. Set after set soon has us dancing like the tide yonder. Alas time waits for no man and the night comes to an end. We say good night and look forward to Sunday.
Another workshop is the order of the morning. Carmel goes to the Clare Orange and Green, a delightful set, taught with conviction, learned with enthusiasm. This set was followed by a lovely waltz, the Waltz of the Bells, bringing Carmel's workshop to a very successful closure. Carmel thanked everybody for their attendance and cooperation. I in turn thanked Carmel for taking on the task of teaching us and bringing us such joy and fun.
Round three-after a lovely carvery dinner served up to us in the hotel, we were now fuelled up for whatever is thrown our way. The Davey family arrive and quickly remind us we are here for more dancing. "Strike it up John" said I, "we will start with the North Kerry." So, the beach outside was adorned by hundreds of people who were appreciating the lovely weather, while those of us inside were generating our own heat, dancing as if we could not be stopped. Of course all good things come to an end-in this case I wish there could have been an exception. I thanked everybody (I hope) for making our weekend the magic success that it was. We said our goodbyes and promised that next year, God willing, we could do it all over again.
Helen Crotty, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
On a December Saturday in 1999 I travelled over snowy mountains to attend a workshop and ceili in the northern city of Derry, my first time there. Not only did I have a good workshop and ceili, I enjoyed visiting the city with its walled centre and Georgian streets. Finally after seven and a half years later I was back for a second visit in better weather, arriving late on Friday, April 20th. A couple of local dancers kindly provided lodgings on the top floor of their tall, old house on a city hillside. When I awoke on Saturday morning, their windows revealed a magnificent view of the city centre, the River Foyle and the rest of the city spreading over the hills beyond, all decorated in the colours of spring.
For this day of dancing, the Derry dancers actually chose a venue in nearby Co Donegal, in deference to those who might be reluctant to travel to the city. You'd hardly notice the village of Newtowncunningham driving through it, with a few houses and a couple of shops about twenty kilometres from the city, but well off the main road there's a fine clubhouse at the Páirc Cholmcille sports ground. Just as in 1999, Pat Murphy taught the workshops, beginning with two local sets, the Donegal and Doire Cholmcille (Derry) sets in the morning. Despite being from the far north, the Donegal feels much like a set from the far south, Cork or Kerry, thanks to the music and moves. During the Derry Set, Pat and the local dancers discussed the proper way to dance the jig figure, and it went like clockwork when we practiced it.
At the lunch break a long table was set up with chairs and bowls for a meal of homemade soup and bread. It was a great convenience to have a delicious, relaxed meal in the hall and not to have to rush away down the road for a quick bite. We resumed dancing with the Sliabh Fraoch Set, and Pat made easy work of the more challenging moves in it. One dancer told me it was "wee buns," a local expression meaning "no bother." By request we danced the Claddagh as the last set of the workshop, another challenging set made easy by Pat.
After a few hours' break to rest, relax and refresh myself, I looked forward to hearing the Emerald Ceili Band at the ceili. They're a popular and busy band of young musicians, but have been taking a break since last summer while their box player Matt completes a year of study in Spain. Tonight they were just three, Janette and Paul Mongan on fiddle and piano as usual, together with Fermanagh box player Jim McGrath. They made powerful music together and generated energy and enthusiasm from everyone as we danced away the night, following easy calling by Pat Murphy.
After a selection of sets, including the Derry set, a generous tea break and the raffle, organiser Maura Herron gave a few words of thanks, and revealed that there was a celebrity among us. Jim McGrath was named 2007 Composer of the Year on Easter Sunday by TG4, the Irish language television station. Just before the last figure of the final Plain Set, Sean Herron reminded us that the day's dancing was in memory of Derry teacher Frankie Roddy, who taught ceili and set dancing for thirty years and is still missed and fondly remembered by the local dancers. Sean also announced that the club plans to hold a full weekend of events next year in a Derry city hotel.
When the ceili ended I'd enjoyed my day of dancing so much I felt as though I'd been dancing for a full weekend already! I'd love to come back again for even more, and won't be waiting another seven and half years for it.
Have you ever had the thrill of dancing sets to music played by eleven Japanese musicians?
The thrill was ours when these young ladies and gents played for the Cashel, Connemara and Caledonian sets in a super pub with a lovely bouncy wooden floor during our recent visit to Japan. Our two weeks there, one in Osaka and one in Tokyo, were filled with sightseeing, good food and great workshops in set dancing, old-style step dancing and two-hand dancing. Our trip was very kindly organised by Eiko and Hitoshi Kubo in Osaka. There was not a dull moment from the time we arrived in Kansai airport on April 3rd until we left Narita on April 17th.
Our visit to Kyoto gave us a taste of temples, shrines, cherry blossom and Japanese cuisine, and a performance of traditional Japanese dance, music and song. This we will certainly remember forever. It was preceded by a green tea ceremony and was performed in a theatre where the backdrops on the stage were of the famous cherry blossom. The colour and choreography were superb. During the two-hour performance we only heard one tap of the foot-what a change from our dance experiences here in Ireland!
Osaka Castle stands sublime and ornate with a magnificent view of the city from its top floor. We had some dancing on the promenade beside the Pacific Ocean on Easter Monday to the delight of the many visitors to the area. The first workshop in Osaka was for beginners in old-style step dancing. I was totally amazed at the number of dancers who arrived-at least thirty. I chose to teach the old-style jig which I learned from my dance master, Micheál Ó Duinn, in 1952. To the delight of the dancers after three hours we had completed the dance and were able to perform it comfortably to steady music. What a sense of completion and satisfaction! Our workshop on Saturday was about old-style step dancing for advanced dancers. I chose to teach the Ballyfin Hunt to 35 participants. This is danced to the usual music for the Hunt but the dance is unique to my area. It is a challenging dance but because of the commitment of all present we managed to complete it in three and a half hours. Once again the sense of joy on completion of the dance was magic.
Sunday's workshop was for set dancers. I chose to teach Seit Durlas Eile (Thurles Set). This is a magnificent dance composed by Michael Loughnane and his team in Thurles to mark fifteen years of set and ceili dancing in Michael's home town. Five rhythms are experienced-jig, reel, hornpipe, polka and slide. It is a thrill to teach and dance and the five sets of attendees enjoyed every moment. There was a great sense of achievement when it was completed and the clapping, which is part of the last figure, came with joy and enthusiasm. To add to the sheer enjoyment of this workshop, live music was played throughout by the Sainak Ceili Band. We listened to accordion, guitar, two fiddles, flute and keyboard with other musicians dropping in as the day progressed. They had prepared the tunes meticulously and played right through the workshop and ceili (at least six hours) with joy and precision. I also taught the Clap Barn Dance and the Brittania Two-Step which went down a treat at the end of the workshop. When the ceili concluded several dancers and musicians joined with us for an evening of superb food, long chats and tearful goodbyes.
On Tuesday April 10th our group of eight-my husband Chris, Alice McEniry, Kate Curran, Kitty Norton, Josie O'Meara, John Sheehan and Willie Guinan-moved by bullet train to Tokyo. This comfortable and spacious mode of transport travels at 270km per hour and can accommodate 1600 people! It's appropriate to mention at this point how impressed we were by the train system which was punctual and clean. To our complete amazement people did not speak on their mobile phones while on the train. This is a rule and was adhered to as far as we could see by all the passengers. Our sightseeing in Tokyo included Meij Singon temple, Tokyo World Trade Centre, a cruise in Tokyo Bay, the Asakusa district and a museum showing the way of life of the Japanese people down through the years. Superb! We took a walk on the Tokyo equivalent of the Parisian Champs-Élysées. This is where their St Patrick's parade takes place each year and where two years ago our president watched sets being danced and listened to Irish music on March 17th.
Friday April 13th brought us to a magnificent open-air folk museum and later on to my first workshop in Tokyo. Once again they enjoyed great success with my old-style jig. On Saturday it was set dancing. This time I chose the Durrow Threshing Set. What fun we had with the battering step in the first and last figures but no trouble to our Japanese dancers to master it. On completion of the set we engaged with four two-hand dances which everyone enjoyed very much as a cool down at the conclusion of the workshop. The ceili was super! The music was played by ten Japanese musicians who had prepared meticulously for the occasion. Sunday's workshop was for advanced step dancers. We worked through the dance together, each participant giving of their best to take away another dance and extend their already wide repertoire.
Each evening after our dancing both in Osaka and Tokyo we were accompanied by many dancers to the best restaurants available, which gave us not just experience of Japanese cuisine but also a wide western choice. I must say we thoroughly enjoyed the chopstick challenge. Some members of our group managed very well! My excuse was that it is more difficult if you are a ciotóg (left hander).
Our last day in Tokyo was spent shopping. Mariko brought us to the oriental bazaar in the centre of Tokyo's shopping area. We saw some rain for the first time reminding us of the old sod and preparing us for our marathon journey back to Ireland the following day. Our trip was filled with hospitality, generosity, super dancing, music and sightseeing. Sincere gratitude to all involved and I earnestly look forward to meeting many of my Japanese friends during their forthcoming visits to Ireland.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
April turned out to be the hottest month ever recorded in Ireland. With four nearly unbroken weeks of sunny, warm and dry weather, the countryside never looked more beautiful and there was never a better time to see it. On the last weekend of the month I made what's probably the longest possible land journey from Kilfenora, all the way to the north Antrim coast. The trip took eight hours, stopping a couple of times along the way. As I descended Glencloy, one of the nine Glens (valleys) of Antrim, to the little harbour town of Carnlough, the sea was a vision, as calm and luminous as the clear late evening sky. I was looking forward to exploring the area and also doing a bit of dancing.
Carnlough stretches out in a semicircle around the coast of a small bay. The grand buildings in the centre point to an earlier prosperity when mines in the hills overlooking the town were in operation. There was once a railway which brought limestone from the mines down to the port across a bridge over the main street. Today you can hike along the disused railway to the abandoned mines for a spectacular view over the town and bay.
I arrived here on Thursday to allow plenty of time to explore the area-fortunately this was the night of the weekly set dancing class in the Glencloy Inn. I was ushered into the pub and introduced to the dancers by organiser Emer Gallagher. We had to wait a few minutes downstairs to let the diners in the upstairs restaurant finish their meals and the staff clear the tables and chairs, then we went up and Emer took us through the Williamstown Set. She asked me to suggest a second set and I wondered if they did any Cork or Kerry sets. Without hesitation she announced the Valentia Right and Left Set and we danced a few figures before finishing.
After a day spent shopping in Ballymena and visiting Slemish Mountain and the glens, I was ready for some sets. Emer and her local dancers had organised their first workshop weekend in eleven years, and I returned to the Glencloy Inn for a big opening session. There were at least a dozen musicians, nearly half of whom were young lads playing accordions. Enough dancers showed up to fill the restaurant with four sets and we had a relaxed night of good music, conversation and dancing.
Connie Ryan taught the last workshop in Carnlough in 1996, and following his death the next year there were no workshops here until Pat Murphy was invited this year. Pat had been here before in 1989 to take over for Connie when he was silenced by laryngitis, and he was only delighted to be back in the Glens of Antrim again. For his workshop on Saturday morning we convened in the Community Hall, which was a three-minute walk from the main street along the old railway line. Pat had us dance the Louisburgh Set for an easy warm-up on Saturday morning, and then we shifted into high gear with the East Galway Set. It's one set that lets neither tops nor sides have a moment's rest-everyone's dancing and battering all the time. In the few minutes before the lunch break there was time to wind down a bit with the Back-to-Back Hornpipe. After lunch Pat continued with the year's most popular workshop set, the Sliabh Fraoch, and gave us a welcome opportunity to dance the Ballyduff Set.
Carnlough's first ceili in eleven years was an occasion to remember on Saturday. Presiding over the music were Amanda, Nigel and John Davey of the Davey Ceili Band, and Pat Murphy managed the dancers by selecting the sets and calling them. Supporting the ceili were dancers from Antrim, Belfast, Cavan and a special lady from Kilfenora. Soon after midnight, John Davey called Mary Doorty to the stage to express everyone's good wishes and congratulations on her eightieth birthday. Mary is the number 1 supporter of Set Dancing News and a life long dancer who has loved set dancing ever since she discovered it in Vaughan's Barn many years ago. She's still going strong and danced every Clare set on the night's programme. Amanda Davey had the honour of presenting Mary with an arrangement of flowers and everyone present sang Happy Birthday together. Mary spoke a few words of thanks and said how pleased she was to celebrate in Antrim where she found everyone so friendly. She told us how she longed for Ireland when she was nursing for years in London and dreamed of a little house of her own in the west. Her feelings were beautifully expressed when she recited Padraic Colum's An Old Woman of the Roads-"O, to have a little house! To own the hearth and stool and all! The heaped up sods upon the fire, the pile of turf against the wall! . . ." The congratulations continued to the end of the ceili. Whether celebrating a birthday or not, everyone had a brilliant evening. It was great to be dancing in Carnlough.
On Sunday morning there was one last workshop where Pat taught the Tory Island Set, with an abundance of moves found nowhere else. It's probably the northernmost set in the repertoire; any set more northerly would have to be from Scotland, which can be seen from all along the coast here. We completed the weekend's dancing with a couple of two-hand dances and then made fond farewells to each other, most hoping to return to Carnlough for more dancing next year. I didn't miss dancing at an afternoon ceili because the day was so dazzlingly beautiful it gave me a great excuse for a Sunday drive along the coast, over the mountains and through the glens. It's hard to know which I enjoyed more, the dancing or the glens, but I'll come back for both at my next opportunity.
Could it be possible that the birds sing more sweetly on this island than they do on the mainland? Probably not, but it's perhaps that we get an opportunity to hear them more clearly with the silence that surrounds us when we visit Inis Oírr for the weekend of set dancing. It was a magical couple of days and certainly organiser Mícheál O hAlmhaín had planned to squeeze in as many events as possible for us while we were there. Unfortunately I missed the Friday night get-together but from all accounts it was wonderful with performances by the Breton dancers and the energetic and highly talented Scottish dancer John Sikorski.
Saturday morning began with the Inis Oírr set which as always is a pleasure to dance. Then followed some Breton dances, which were graceful yet joyful, and a Scottish reel exhibition by John Sikorski. During the morning workshop the Breton dancers, whom for the majority it was the first time to dance sets, joined with the dancing and although many didn't have English managed to pick it up easily. It's a reminder for us all that the language of dance is universal. The afternoon began with a workshop in Strathspey steps by John. These steps would be closely linked to our sean nós dancing but this young man had a huge repertoire. He could dance for at least fifteen minutes without much repetition and without showing any signs of fatigue. A treat to watch!
Aras Eanna was the venue for the concert. What a beautiful theatre this is! For their performance at the concert the Breton dancers were in full costume. When one watches any group of dancers from mainland Europe perform their national dance it comes to mind that we in Ireland don't have a recommended national costume to wear when we represent our country at dance festivals abroad. Just a thought!
At the ceili the Four Courts Ceili Band, with the support of Mícheál Ó hAlmhaín on whistle, played steady, tuneful music and having danced both the Inis Oírr and Sliabh Fraoch sets at the workshop the Breton dancers blended perfectly and danced all the sets with the help of Pat Murphy's clear instructions. For John Sikorski's performance at the ceili the band reduced the volume of the music so that we could hear every tap and batter. We certainly did! Another master performance!
Róisín Ní Mhainín taught sean nós dancing on Sunday morning. All too quickly the weekend finished with the dancing of the Souris set.
As I write this article one week after the workshop there is a gale force wind blowing and torrential rain lashing against the windows. How lucky we were to be able to travel to and from the island in reasonable weather. A reminder that the real Lord of the Dance is in control of our every move both on and off the dance floor. It was a refreshing weekend and thanks to Mícheál for his innovations and his provision of a variety of entertainment for all participants. Míle buíochas, a Mhichíl, agus go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
The village of Kilconly, a few miles northwest of Tuam in Co Galway, held its annual crossroads ceili on Sunday 6th May. Now in its seventeenth year, the amount of work involved in organising and laying the floor has to be immense.
After many weeks of hot dry weather, the rains duly arrived in time for the ceili, but not to be disappointed we moved to the adjacent community centre where we danced to the fabulous music of the Four Courts Ceili Band. What a delight to have so many talented musicians on stage! We have got used to having three or four musicians playing for us, but to have seven-tremendous! The wealth of tunes played was first class, several of which I had not heard for a long time.
Following the first set which was the Corofin Plain, we launched into a seldom danced set nowadays, the South Galway Reel, with its abundance of housing around, which we got through with a bit of help. Why is this set not danced more regularly? It's a very enjoyable one.
We were very honoured to have on stage the great concertina player, Chris Droney, a legend in his lifetime, along with his daughter. They played a duet as only they can play. It was such a delight when Aidan Vaughan left his drums and put on his dancing shoes and gave us a sean nós demonstration. Waltzes and ceili dances were followed by the much loved and popular Caledonian and Connemara sets, and the afternoon ended with the Plain Set.
Many thanks to the members of the band for such good music, and to the organisers of this ceili, which I have always enjoyed, and a special thank you to all who put the floor down, although it wasn't used.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
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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