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).
Hexham is a quaint cathedral town in the northeast of England a few miles south of the Scottish border. The old streets and buildings probably haven't changed their appearance in decades or more. It seemed to be thriving as a shopping town as I arrived on a Friday afternoon, June 22nd, for a weekend of set dancing. I made my way here by car via the ferry from Belfast to the Scottish port of Stranraer, with excursions to Glasgow and the little country town of Wigtown. After crossing the English border, I drove alongside Hadrian's Wall for much of the journey. Thunder and lightning threatened me in the distance, but fortunately I never passed through it.
On arrival, I soon found my way to my B&B for the weekend which Dave Mann, set dancer, professional fiddle maker and organiser of the Hexham weekend, had kindly booked me into. High on a hill overlooking the town, at the end of a driveway a third of a mile long, the house was the kind of place I'd normally only see on series from the BBC. The grand lady of the house and her housekeeper welcomed me and encouraged me to make myself at home and take advantage of the guest lounge-a fifty-foot drawing room. My bedroom was modest but the vase of fresh garden flowers was a welcome touch. Nothing in the house appeared to have been bought or updated more recently than the 1970s, except for the television in my room. The grounds included woodland, grassy fields, a patio garden, enormous flower borders and a walled kitchen garden. The perfect home away from home for my set dancing weekend in England. I spent the afternoon wandering the town, gawking at and squawking on fiddles in Dave's shop, scouring dusty shelves for old books and raiding the Waitrose supermarket for posh picnic items gleefully consumed back at the B&B.
Of course, it was dancing that interested me most, and when the time was right I wandered over to the opening ceili in Queen Elizabeth High School. This was in the school gymnasium which had one wall entirely of glass. For the benefit of the English dancers not necessarily familiar with set dancing, the evening began with a Circle Waltz and included many more easy dances, the Berkshire Fool, Sky Waltz, Sicilian Circle and more. Nevertheless we danced six sets, and still had time for a demonstration of Durham and Northumberland clog steps by a team of five ladies and girls.
The special treat at the weekend was the chance to dance at three ceilis to a band I'd never heard before, the Oriel Ceili Band. They're a talented family trio of mother Bernie O'Neill on piano accordion and two teenage sons Hugh and Shane on banjo and piano. It's impossible to stand still to their bold, exciting sound! They come from County Tyrone where they've been playing regularly for fíor céilithe, and have only recently started playing for set dancing ceilis. They were perfectly at ease with the unusual selection of dances at tonight's mixed ceili, and the sets were exactly what the set dancers were looking for.
Pat Murphy arrived early on Saturday morning in time for his 10.30am workshop, flying from Dublin to Newcastle, accompanied by fellow teacher Tony Ryan from Galway. If his early start tired him out, Pat never let it show while he was teaching. He was eager, spirited and full of fun. Our first set was the Sliabh Fraoch, still new to the English dancers who were eager to learn its fun and interesting moves. I was delighted to have a rare chance to dance the Glencree Set, one which was often danced around ten years ago but is seldom seen today. The day's catering was excellent, with biscuits and tea served mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and a cafeteria-style dinner, soup and sandwiches available for lunch at most reasonable prices. After lunch we continued with the Glencree and moved on afterward to the lively long version of the East Galway Set. There was time at the end to learn the lovely two-hand dance, the Margaret Waltz.
After a rest, a meal and a bath in the Olympic-size bathtub at my B&B, I was ready for the night's big ceili. Tonight's dances were almost 100% sets, with just a couple of waltzes sung by Bernie O'Neill to add interest. Pat Murphy called two of the night's unusual sets, the Sliabh Fraoch and West Kerry, and Tony Ryan helped out with the Claddagh Set. Newcastle set dancing teacher John Coleman paid a tribute to teachers John and Catherine Limer, who kept set dancing alive in the area for many years, and presented them with whisky and flowers. The organisers had conveniently installed a bar just outside the hall for the benefit of dancers needing strong refreshment and plain water was available for the rest of us. Sandwiches were also on offer for those feeling peckish. Both last night and tonight the final set was the Cashel Set, which is clearly the top favourite in this part of the world.
Six set dancers in total were lodged at my B&B. We breakfasted together each morning with animated chat and then strolled around the gardens as though they were ours, sampling the loganberries and helping with the weeding. There was no need for an alarm clock in the house-on both Saturday and Sunday I was awakened early by the burglar alarm. On Saturday the housekeeper set it off when arriving to prepare breakfast, and on Sunday, one of the dancers set it off when he wandered downstairs at half past seven to go out for a stroll in the garden.
The gymnasium we danced in on Friday and Saturday didn't offer much in the way of character, but on Sunday we moved to a beautiful hall on the school campus, which had some vintage Victorian buildings. The Winter Garden, built in 1892, was almost like a greenhouse with glass walls on all sides supported by cast iron columns. There was greenery and sky visible in every direction and our spirits lifted as soon as we entered the place. For a further boost to our mood, Pat Murphy chose the Melleray Lancers as our set of the morning. This is one of the best sets in the whole of set dancing and is full of joyful fun, especially in the third figure when opposites kiss each other. Hilarity is generally guaranteed and there was a limitless supply this morning. There wasn't time for the full seven figures but we managed all but one when we stopped for lunch. The tea and lunch breaks were in an adjacent hall with the school caterers serving more of their tasty offerings.
A final blast of sets with the Oriel Ceili Band completed the weekend's dancing on Sunday afternoon. The band benefited from a guest fiddler for an even better sound. The musical highlight of the afternoon was a pair of banjo solos by young Hugh O'Neill, who demonstrated amazing high-speed dexterity as he got more notes from his strings than I would have thought was humanly possible, all with the relaxed ease of an All-Ireland champion. This skill carried through to the music for the sets, which we danced with the same fun we experienced in the morning, with an occasional kiss included. The weekend's participants, who came from Ireland, Scotland, Germany and all over northern England, were universally delighted with their time in Hexham.
In the hospitable manner of set dancers everywhere, those of us who weren't immediately rushing off on long journeys were invited to supper by a local couple at their lovely home. There's no better way to unwind after a good weekend than to enjoy the company and conversation of friends you spent so much time dancing with. After making my farewells, I went home for one last night in my special Hexham B&B and headed off the next morning eager for more dancing adventures.
Sure, you all have begun your list of "100 things to do before you die." Well add Cynthia and Tim Neale's good old-fashioned ceili to your list. When you arrive, you'll see the shamrocked ceili shingle at the end of the drive waving you inside to be greeted by a warm smile and hug of welcome. Cynthia's ceili is the one legendary event that everyone in attendance talks about for months until the next one comes around. It's a true ceili house.
The Neale's 250 year old farmhouse nestled in the quaint little town of Hampstead, New Hampshire, is the setting for their lá damhsa, ceol agus amhráin (dance, music and song day). They have been hosting céilithe for several years now but May 1st's ceili was a special treat.
An afternoon sean nós dance workshop taught by Kieran Jordan began the day's events. Philadelphia-born Kieran is now a Boston resident and certified teacher with many years of dance experience behind her. Historically, sean nós was predominantly a man's dance. However, men beware! Kieran's class ratio favored women eleven to one! Many of the participants had dance experience including ballet, step dancing, set dancing and some sean nós workshops, so the footwork was no bother to them.
Kieran commented that Cynthia's great room was "a really warm, inviting and natural atmosphere, a great place to dance sean nós." She taught the group a few Connemara steps interwoven with some of her own design in the Clare battering style. As time passed, it was clear there had been a remarkable transformation. Cries heard changed from "I'm not getting this, are you?" to "I'm so getting this!" Connemara would be so proud of ye now!
When ceili time came around all regrouped, along with more arriving carloads. Distance is no object with a one to two hour drive for most of the guests and past céilithe can boast of dancers from Ireland, Germany and England! What to bring to the ceili? An appetizer, donation, participation in dance, song, storytelling or music, and don't forget your appetite for the dizzying array of appetizers.
Now down to business! The lovely oak plank floor, laid with set dancing in mind, allowed room for the formation of three sets. Figures were dervishly executed to tunes from CDs, alternating with those by the guest musicians. The sets danced until midnight were: Connemara, Cashel, Plain Clare, Ballyvourney Jig, Caledonian, Black Valley Jig, Corofin Plain and Borlin, with a waltz or two snuck in.
I'd be slack not to thank the fabulous guest musicians here-Magdalen Cantwell, Catherine Joyce, Howard Winrow, Deirdre Winrow, Peter Buchek, Eileen Dugal and Tim Neale. When they weren't playing for the dancers, they sessioned in the sitting room where the musical atmosphere woke the rafters and lent to the old flavor of the home. Throughout the night, the dancers gravitated to the parlor to listen, or even pick up an instrument and join in the seisiún.
Sounds like trad heaven? The best is yet to come-gather round, grab a seat. As is tradition at the Neale's céilithe, Cynthia introduced the 10pm tea social with a presentation. She read a poem and recited some profound, fitting words to rejoice in the gathering of old and new friends.
Before pouring the tae, Cynthia described all of her decadent homemade desserts. Let the mouth watering begin. The delights laid before us were three-tiered cinnamon-scented devil's food cupcakes baked in panettone molds decorated with fresh yellow spray roses and ribbons; lemon curd cake filled with lemon curd swirled with mascarpone cheese and decorated with sugared violets; wait for it, there's more-sensuous Australian pavlova layered with whipped cream and fresh berries (add to your 100 things list). There were biscotti and scones of various flavors: white chocolate and pistachio with dried cranberry or cherry; chocolate and almond; dried cranberry or cherry and lemon peel; and cinnamon or chocolate chip. Let the feasting begin!
Tea flowed from pots into an eclectic collection of porcelain cups. While feasting on the sumptuous dessert extravaganza, the house band played as talented guests took to the floor. We were nourished with more treats for the eye, mind and soul as we cheered on the light and beautifully executed step dancing solos of Ingrid Sanders from the Netherlands, Jackie O'Riley and Kristen Kelly. Kieran Jordan displayed her eminent sean nós talent. Oh yes, you haven't truly lived until you've witnessed the bean an tí (Cynthia) strut her memorable sean nua-nós stuff.
Catherine Joyce, age 16, graced the hushed room to a five verse sean nós song of May Morning Dew. Next up was A J Edwards, a singer-songwriter with a Damien Rice edge, who sang two original cuts from his CD Firsthand in his acoustic folk style to a very appreciative audience.
It wasn't until after midnight that the night wound down and all pitched in with the cleanup. Alas, it was not the company, but 'twas the hour, as all reluctantly departed to no doubt steer their way home on autopilot. The road was made short with the music high afterglow. To quote Kieran, "Thank you, Cynthia, our wonderful and soulful host!"
Karin A Joyce, Arlington, Massachussets
Sunday afternoon 20th May was a beautiful summer's day. Dancers gathered in the Millennium Centre in Caherconlish, Co Limerick, for the second annual benefit ceili. Our hosts for the afternoon were John and Kathleen Roche, from County Limerick.
I was delighted to see the ceili getting underway with 25 sets on the floor. We danced all the familiar sets with no calling. The fabulous music was from the gifted Donie Nolan and Taylor's Cross Ceili Band. John Roche took the stage and welcomed everyone and said he was delighted to see so many set dancers. He told us that all monies made today were going directly to the new oncology unit in the Limerick Regional Hospital. He took the opportunity to thank the West Limerick Set Dancers who presented him with a cheque for €1000 on Sunday 13th May at their final ceili for the summer at the Convent Hall in Abbyfeale.
We had a tea break mid-way through the ceili with superb finger food and confectionary, all lovingly prepared by Kathleen Roche and her friends.
Then before the second half of the ceili ensued we had some fine step dancing when two of John and Kathleen's grandchildren, cousins Jade and Ashley stepped it out in a reel.
John and Kathleen are to be commended for all the hard work they did in arranging this ceili and all the dancers who attended and bought tickets to support the event should be proud. It gives one renewed faith in human nature to see the support that this ceili got and the numerous other charity céilithe that take place all over Ireland. We all love to dance, but it was with tremendous joy that John Roche announced that they had raised €3380 for the hospital.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Once again the time had come to flee to the fabled island of gables green. Every Victoria Day weekend, better known in Canada as May long weekend, set dancers from Nova Scotia joined a gathering of dancers on Prince Edward Island to celebrate our mutual enjoyment of Irish culture. The journey began Friday, May 18, as pilgrims headed through Nova Scotia, slipped through New Brunswick, and crossed the 13km Confederation Bridge to Canada's island province.
First stop was near Charlottetown, at the Cornwall house of Helen Gough, the Islanders' dance instructor, and her husband, Gary Conboy. Gary is a vet, so we were greeted by an assortment of pets, including a dog of mixed provenance. The chinchilla cages are neatly stacked against the wall and didn't interfere with socializing. A few sets were danced, including the Fermanagh led by Helen, but mostly we were chatting and catching up.
Saturday began leisurely, of course, although rumour has it that some intrepid musicians provided entertainment on the fisherman's dock at dawn. In the afternoon, musicians from both provinces made their way to the Rustico home of Dave and Cheryl Corrigan, overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence. Having previewed the house on Google Earth first, there were no problems finding the scenic spot. A slow session commenced, which got faster as the afternoon progressed. I think that we can safely say that this session is slow no longer.
Saturday night brought a typical Prince Edward Island adventure, complete with directions to confound Google Earth, let alone innocent travellers: "From Route 210 turn quickly onto Route 23. (What happens if you turn slowly?) Then go right or left on Route 206 and drive until you see a lot of cars around a hall close to a church. Note to people from big cities: Routes 23 and 206 are hilly country roads and not very many houses." No problem! Not much, anyway.
We eventually found the Iona Hall, where a local Irish musician, Wendy, was celebrating a round birthday. In a generous example of island hospitality, tables groaned under the makings of a potluck supper. What odds that the Nova Scotia visitors hadn't brought anything-nor knew Wendy for that matter! All were welcomed, and soon embarked on the second adventure of the evening: playing for dancers.
PEI has little experience providing live music for the exacting requirements of Irish sets, but that evening many of us made our debut, a learning experience all 'round. The dancers learned that if the musicians start playing hornpipes, you'd better think of a hornpipe figure fast because who knows how long the music will last. The musicians learned that you simply can't stop in the middle of a figure to discuss what tune to do next. Everyone learned that leisurely paces can be fun and waltzes make a nice break. Compromises were reached as dancers lilted out the figures and an African drum kept the beat while the musicians conferred. It all ended in laughter and a new appreciation of the complexities of our favourite activity.
Sunday afternoon brought us to Brennan's Pub and Eatery in Charlottetown. Housed in a former pharmacy built in the 1880's, the pub still boasts a soda fountain with stools and a wall of drawers for storing medicines. Although closed on Sundays outside the tourist season, the establishment opens once a month for the dancers, and even provides free pizza! In a collaboration new this year acclaimed island fiddler, Roy Johnstone, led the live music and set a fine example for us all. Dancers included curious onlookers who wandered in from the sidewalk.
Sunday night took us back to the highest point in PEI, Emyvale, where our favourite wooden floor has a reputation you can stand on. Karl and Barb Thomson, as every year, invited us into their home. All the usual suspects were spotted: Clare Lancers, Plain, Corofin, Mazurka, among others, and our traditional closing set, the Ballyvourney. In a demonstration of how fast musicians can learn to adapt (if not play), CDs were available but not used as dancers and musicians reached a harmonious union. There is indeed hope for us all.
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Maureen Culleton's second Summer School of Dance, which took place in Ballyfin, Co Laois, from July 2nd to 6th, was once again a most enjoyable experience. There were many reasons for this. Maureen was director, co-ordinator and instructor, which assured all participants of her personal attention at all times. Each day there was a variety of dance on the agenda: ceili, Breton, two-hand, sets, sean nós and old-style traditional step dancing. Maureen's hospitality, coupled with her clear, gentle style of instruction put everyone at ease immediately and participants were totally relaxed in the group.
Maureen chose to teach the Borlin Jenny Reel Set and the Black Valley Square Jig which were refreshing for experienced dancers and challenging but achievable for beginners. Breton dance was a first-time experience for most participants and its steps, structure and musical accompaniment were thoroughly enjoyed by all. For the ceili dance experience Maureen chose the Harvest Time Jig, Two-hand Jig and Two-hand Reel. The two-hand dances were too numerous to mention and sean nós brought individuality, personal interpretation and great fun to the daily routine.
Linda McGill presented a most informative lecture on the history of the concertina followed by a recital. A question and answer session followed when participants had the opportunity to share memories of music played by family past and present. The céilithe on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights were thoroughly enjoyable with a wide variety of sets danced each night.
A tasty lunch was served each day and the evening entertainment left nothing to be desired except better weather for the Sliabh Bloom walk. In spite of inclement conditions the party thoroughly enjoyed the wealth of information which Michael Dowling, local historian and environmentalist had to impart.
Why did I enjoy it so much? I felt part of a family of dancers where each member's contribution was appreciated and respected and where sharing and caring were at the heart of learning.
Kitty Norton, Kilkenny
Could it really be as good as I remember it from last year? Having written up my dancing adventures at the Willie Clancy Summer School and Armada Hotel in these pages for the previous nine years, is there anything new I could possibly say? This year's ten days were more of the same, but different, and every bit as enjoyable as any I've experienced in the past. Here again is the day-by-day account of my activities there.
Thursday 5 JulyI discovered the ceilis in Vaughan's Barn when I began dancing in Miltown thirteen years ago and immediately fell in love with the Four Courts' superb music, idyllic rural surroundings and welcoming atmosphere. It's still the same today, with the advantage of some extra space, and visitors flock here by the coachload. Tonight the place was packed with Yanks who were in the village for a wedding. Aidan Vaughan gave them a dancing lesson prior to the ceili and proprietor John Vaughan showed steps to some of the ladies, but a few ventured onto the floor only during the waltz. A handful of set dancers from Paris, Milwaukee and England arrived in Clare early enough to get a taste of what was in store for rest of the week.
Friday 6 JulyCars filled the Armada Hotel car park as I arrived for their first ceili. This surprised me as I was expecting the usual quiet relaxed first night. It's usually the only ceili of the festival where the sets have plenty of space on the ballroom's main floor without spilling over onto the extra boards laid on the carpet. Signs at the hotel ballroom doors redirected us to the small Lower Deck hall. A wedding had taken over the ballroom tonight and helped fill the car park. The atmosphere was as hot and heavy as it usually is on the highly popular second weekend; music was by the ever-popular Four Courts. Not only did we pack every bit of timber floor and extra boards during the Newport Set, but even the open areas of carpet were full during the Caledonian! Hugs and kisses abounded as friends met after long absences. One young lady ran up to her friends on the dance floor screeching with excitement as soon as she arrived; she had been abroad for a few months and was overjoyed to be back dancing. I was equally happy to meet many of my friends. During a Plain Set I was mystified to spot a puddle of water on the corner of the floor beside me. Between figures I noticed a lady from the next set dipping her shoes into it. "The floor is too slippery," she explained, and had placed the water there to give her shoes an occasional friction boost. She most kindly added, "You can share my puddle if you want to."
Saturday 7 JulyA good place to meet people is in the summer school registration queue at the Community Hall in Miltown. I hung around a bit chatting to people while the queue stretched out onto the street and when it had shortened I got my summer school badge. A Canadian couple I met there had very thoughtfully brought me a big jug of maple syrup.
The Armada this afternoon was blissful, with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh creating music that was light and cheerful yet powerfully inspiring. The sun was shining, the sky blue and the glistening sea was a constant distraction. There were enough dancers to create an atmosphere and enough space in the ballroom for comfort. All ages and nationalities mixed and danced together at what was an ideal ceili!
After the ceili it was handy to get some supper at the Armada's carvery in the Lower Deck. After eating, my visiting friends and I took seats outside on the patio where we were soon joined by a local teenage girl. She was the perfect set dancing poster child, bubbling with enthusiasm about the festival, dancing, friends and her favourite bands. One of the factors making this such an enjoyable week is the huge number of young people happily sharing the floor with the rest of us.
Last year the official Willie Clancy Summer School ceili venue was the Mill Marquee and it was back this year. It was installed again in the car park of the GAA grounds just on the edge of Miltown. The marquee was carefully levelled throughout. Near the entrance it rested on the ground, whereas at the far side a stack of wooden blocks raised it by two feet. Last year's marquee wasn't levelled and the two foot drop sent all the dancers sliding along the floor to the far end. I tested out the floor at tonight's ceili with Taylor's Cross Ceili Band and judged it to be a success. Not only was it level, but raising it added a nice bounce. Unfortunately, the improvements weren't enough to attract a crowd to the marquee on its first night, despite the band's superb west Limerick music. We were two sets for the first half, but then dropped to a set and a half. When the Plain Set was called there was only one and then we all agreed to finish dancing an hour early.
Sunday 8 JulyBrian Ború Ceili Band from Dublin made their first appearance at the Armada Hotel on Sunday afternoon, another bright and beautiful afternoon. The band's loyal followers were here along with many hearing them for the first time. The bright and lively music attracted Sunday strollers who were wandering the shore; they peered in the windows and listened by the doors. Inside we were flying through the sets with smiles on our faces. I went out with a friend for a dinner date, and after a leisurely meal in the Barrtra seafood restaurant near Lahinch I was right on time for the Armada's night ceili with Copperplate Ceili Band. It was exactly a year ago when I heard them playing here for the first time at a ceili in the Lower Deck. In that time their popularity has grown across Ireland, England, Ibiza and Portugal. Tonight for their first ceili in the ballroom they weren't taking any chances with the sound and set up what seemed like at least a dozen speakers around the room. I had lovely and loveable partners for every set. There was kissing in the Corofin, high-speed turns in the Plain (figures 2 and 3), and doubling nearly every chance I had. With the fastest ladies I even managed a bit of quadrupling! The Copperplate played a great selection of tunes which they changed often. At the end of each figure they stopped sharply and precisely. The music inspired spontaneous cheers at regular intervals through the night, especially so for the thrilling Tamlin Reel in the Plain Set.
Monday 9 JulyFollowing my weekend, I already had that Friday feeling and it was only Monday morning! When I wandered late into Timmy McCarthy's class in the converted chapel at St Joseph's Secondary School, I saw that there were three sets dancing, less one couple, but without a partner I wasn't able to fill the last place. They were doing the Sneem Set and the couple dancing both tops and sides was quite content to continue that way. This was my third year attending Timmy's summer school classes, and to those of us returning he said, "Some people have bloody good taste." I love it for the music, which Timmy plays himself, and dancing, plus the venue is light and spacious and has a handy kitchen where we can help ourselves to tea throughout the morning. Timmy and volunteers maintained a supply of tea, coffee, milk and biscuits and each attendee contributed a Euro a day to the communal fund. After a while I stepped in to help out a young Croatian lady whose partner wanted a break and danced a few lively figures to end the session.
Last year the Willie Clancy Summer School experimented with afternoon two-hand dancing classes, and this year there was even more. When I went round to the Mill Marquee a storm was raging, the roof was flapping in the wind and I wasn't expecting a crowd. But in the end I was very pleasantly surprised as 180 people drifted in and had a great afternoon learning the dances with Marie Garrity from Co Tyrone. By holding class in the afternoon, students from the morning music classes were able to attend, as well as those attending dance classes. Marie aimed her teaching at the beginners and carefully explained and practiced the steps and moves in slow detail before letting us loose dancing at speed to music. We started with the Highland Fling, and did about eight dances in total, including Shoe the Donkey by special request, and finishing with the Charleston. It was surely the first time that American-style dance music had ever been heard in classes at the Willie Clancy!
Tonight's dinner date was at the Quilty Tavern five miles down the road. There's no time for a long chat at ceilis so the best time for conversation is over a meal. Back at the Armada Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh had half the speakers of the Copperplate but the sound was still excellent. I'd lost that Friday feeling hours ago and was operating as fresh as if I hadn't yet danced a single step. The music set us all flying and brought smiles to most faces. I've always wondered why some people didn't show the pleasure on their faces, and one lady clarified it for me, "I'd be serious looking, but I wouldn't be serious inside." Everyone got into the spirit of joy, and even one of the security guards at the door came off duty to dance the final Lancers Set. Even after the ceili, Micheál Sexton couldn't stop playing and was playing a selection of tunes with Jim Corry of the Tulla Ceili Band on piano as I left the ballroom.
Tuesday 10 JulyNo breakfast at home today-I went early to class for tea and biscuits. Timmy began with the Ballyvourney Jig Set and taught it the way they dance it in Ballyvourney, Co Cork. When dancing around the house down there they don't dance two bars in place, as commonly seen at ceilis, but make a decisive move forward (lady backward) across the set. "What's the point of coming all this way, paying all that money and dancing twinkle-toes?" Timmy asked, baffled as to why anyone would dance the set any other way. Hurry the Jug is one of my top reasons for dancing in Timmy's workshops, and he showed it to us today, now with more than three full sets of dancers in attendance. It's a figure dance with the complexity of the High-Cauled Cap but danced to slides in the immensely pleasurable Sliabh Luachra style. It took so much work for the class to master the body of the set that we cheered loudly the first time we danced it to music. "Don't get cocky on me!" Timmy said, as the full dance repeats it four times with three figures in between. But we managed well enough for him to announce his intention to perform it on stage at Thursday's dance recital. We were lucky to have two musicians drop in, Andy O'Sullivan and Dave O'Sullivan-Baker, who relieved Timmy of the demanding task of both teaching and playing.
After class in glorious weather I wandered into the main building of St Joseph's to take a few photos from the science classroom, which has lovely sea views. Two middle-aged ladies followed me in, curious to see the room where they used to attend science lessons. They pointed out their former seats and all the other furnishings and features in the room which remained unchanged since their time. On the way out I was amused to see posters for fiddle lessons offered remotely over the internet by web camera. While set dancing might be hard to teach this way perhaps it would work for sean nós and trad step dancing. Today's good weather didn't tempt people away from Marie Garrity's two-hand dancing class in the marquee, as there seemed to be just as many as yesterday though there were many new faces. Marie continued with old favourites like the Peeler and the Goat and the Pride of Erin and left time at the end to dance through the ones we practiced yesterday. The Peeler and the Goat made for interesting viewing as gents and ladies took turns turning each other under their arms. I spotted lots of bare midriffs when turning the ladies in their short tops. Marie was given applause at the end for her enjoyable two classes and dozen or so dances. She has a long list of fifty or sixty dances so perhaps she'll be back for even more classes, perhaps a full week, next year. Meanwhile she announced that the Brian Ború Ceili Band would be here for the next two afternoons playing for sets and two-hand dances.
I decided to leave the car at the marquee and walk to town for dinner, and just soon as I set foot on the Bog Road my date drove by in her car and gave me a lift. We ate at the Chinese restaurant on the main street, which was quiet and relaxed despite the central location. She was also kind enough to have brought me gifts of food from Michigan-white popcorn, wild rice and dried cherries.
When I returned to the Mill Marquee I was glad to have kept my parking place by the entrance. The Tulla Ceili Band were making the first of their two appearances of the week here tonight and they usually pack the hall. Tonight was no exception. Dancing began with the South Galway Set and with every set that passed there were more people on the floor. Someone came up to me in the middle of a set and said that 600 were here. A significant proportion of them came in not to dance but just to listen to the band. Seating was limited so they stood wherever they could, preferably beside the band next to their star fiddle player, Martin Hayes. They were squeezed between the dancers and stage in rapt attention, many holding up video cameras, cameras or even phones to take a bit of the night home with them. It was certainly a night you'd love a chance to relive again. The music had that seductive swing that the Tulla seem to have patented for their exclusive use. I've heard it said they don't play as fast as the other bands, but I never notice because they always completely carry me away with their lift. There were friends in the hall I hadn't seen previously and by the second set I was already fully booked for night. The floor was impassibly crowded with sets on the side by the entrance, but there was good room at the other end where most welcome breezes came in through open doors. The night included a long sequence of waltzes sung by flute player and MC J J Conway, a pair of Caledonian Sets and a Cashel Set played at a good lively pace, especially the Cashel Hop figure which was as fast as I ever remember dancing it. Just before the last set, Martin played a solo selection of reels. Everyone stood and devoted full attention to the beautiful music. We were rewarded with an encore. A German friend summed up the night in her Irish accent, "Best ever since!" I'd have to agree, along with everyone else who was there.
Wednesday 11 July
A gent who attended Timmy's class in previous years stopped by to look in on us, still in his pyjamas! He was quickly roped into dancing a bit of the West Kerry until his lift home returned. Oddly enough, when I saw him later in the afternoon in t-shirt and short trousers I thought he was much smarter looking this morning. Later we danced the Ardgroom Set with its three different types of polka bodies, including the infamous 'walking polka.' This presented a challenge, as did knowing which body to dance when, but all it took was a bit of practice. Timmy asked for volunteers for a team to dance a figure of the Sneem Set and Hurry the Jug on stage tomorrow night, which I was happy to do. Four men volunteered to dance both sets, and eight ladies, four for the Sneem Set and a fresh set of four for Hurry the Jug.
Outside the rain had returned, but at the afternoon ceili inside the Armada's ballroom it was bright and sunny thanks to Matt Cunningham's music. There are so many things to do in Miltown that I hadn't been to the Armada for two days; I love the choice and variety of activities which keep me fully entertained all week. I was still discovering newly arrived favourite partners today and at every ceili and had a great time lepping and spinning, as did everyone else. This evening I had dinner in the Bellbridge Hotel, Spanish Point, where I had the pleasure of hearing the Templehouse Ceili Band in session, having missed their ceili last Sunday. They sounded fantastic and as exciting to dance to as ever.
Another classic ceili band was on stage in the Mill Marquee that night, the Kilfenora Ceili Band. I thought they sounded better than I ever remembered hearing them in Miltown. They were being followed by a camera crew who were filming a documentary to reveal to us all what life is really like for a ceili band. Tonight it was three and a half hours of energetic dancing, applause and cheers, though the camera crew had seen everything they needed to in the first half and departed. The band introduced one new member making his Miltown debut, young Dermot Sheedy on drums.
There was of course a break for the band, which they took privately in one of the changing rooms beside the marquee. While everyone else was queuing for their cuppa, I spotted some resourceful and self-sufficient Aussies who brought a flask of hot water and cups to brew their own. (On the other hand, I made the amazing discovery that if I supplied my own tea bag, I could get a cup and hot water for free! Not only did this work in the Marquee but also in the Armada where a pot was even supplied.) When the ceili was over I got talking to a friendly German fellow who was so rapturous about the Kilfenora's heavenly music he must have spoken non-stop about it for fifteen minutes before any of us could fit in some words of goodbye. Even after I left I'm sure he continued for hours more!
Thursday 12 July
Class this morning included the Borlin Polka Set, with its exciting jump-kick polka. In the last figure everyone doubles around the house with each partner in the set. Timmy showed the correct way for the gents to transfer the lady to the next man-by tossing her up in the air. This involves changing grip in the last bar of the double around so that man has hold of the lady's elbows, then on the final beat of the double around, he lifts and she jumps. The lady can achieve remarkable heights this way, as was demonstrated this morning-just beware of low ceilings and fans. Our other set of the day was the Jenny Ling, and as Timmy stressed, it was not to be confused with Jenny Lind, the Swedish opera singer. He quoted one of his authentic sources on the subject, who said, "My grandfather was dancing the Jenny Ling long before Jenny Lind's ass was the size of a shirt button." Our performance team practiced during the break and afterward-it was looking good for tonight's performance.
Another beautiful day gave a wider choice of afternoon activities, but those that went to the Armada's ceili had more brilliant dancing with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. They don't waste any dancing time-breaks between figures are so brief that they're almost non-existent, and they're nearly as short between sets. We probably had time for an extra set as a result. They love playing polka sets and gave us the Sliabh Luachra, West Kerry and Ballyvourney this afternoon in a style that suited them perfectly. A wide variety of sets may have been lacking at the ceilis this year, but during the Caledonian, I spotted one lucky set who instead were dancing the Clare Orange and Green. You can spot people doing all sorts of things while dancing sets. I noticed one lady writing a text message on her phone while dancing, and another couple sharing an apple while dancing the Kilfenora Set. I was concerned about getting sticky fingers when changing partners but it wasn't a problem. I wonder what they did with the core!
The dance recital ran from 8 to 10pm, and Timmy's class was the last performance of the night. We arranged to meet at 9pm for rehearsal, which left time for a nice meal in Lahinch with yet another friend, who kindly gave me a jar of her fresh homemade raspberry jam. Our twelve dancers convened at the Community Hall and once everyone was in place, the only place big enough for practicing was out on the street, so we did Sneem Set and Hurry the Jug to the approval of an audience of pedestrians. When our turn on stage came near we were ushered into a little room beside the stage waiting to be called out. The four gents emerged with the first team of ladies, Timmy spoke a few words about the Sneem set, he started playing and we were off. All went well, the audience clapped in approval, the ladies' teams traded places and then we began the Jug. We were lucky to have Timmy playing and discreetly calling for us, and all went well at first. We shortened the dance to just one figure, the more complicated second one with a gents' chain. When the two top gents swung together the audience erupted with delight, though when it was my turn the element of surprise had already been lost so there wasn't quite the same reaction. It was during the second and final body that we heard the biggest roar from the audience. One of the top gents seemingly experienced a mental blank and didn't know where to go next. He had his crisis in the middle of the set, blocking the rest of us of from moving. Timmy kept his cool and continued playing and calling so we managed to get going again and finish. The reaction was astounding and might have lifted the roof a bit. I'd say they enjoyed it far more than if we had danced it perfectly, and Timmy agreed. Everyone I spoke to afterward said it was the highlight of the concert.
By the time I arrived at tonight's second ceili with the Tulla Ceili Band in the marquee, the Caledonian Set was already underway. The programme was the same as on Tuesday night, complete with a Cashel Set. In the fifth figure, one gent wanted to dance it beginning with a circle, but I persuaded him that everyone here began it with the long lead 'round. At all the ceilis of the week there was complete agreement on this figure, even with a total absence of callers to prompt us. I never once saw it danced one of the other ways. There was a moment in the set when I took the hand of the opposite lady only to find a towel in it! It was hot enough in the marquee that towels were essential. I completely soaked a couple of handkerchiefs-and of course the shirts as well. Toward the end of the ceili there were more tunes from Martin Hayes, and for the encore he was joined by fellow fiddler Mark Donnellan. It was only a few short years ago when both men were playing with their fathers in the band.
Friday 13 JulyThis morning I visited most of the summer school's dance classes to get a few photos. It's hard to judge numbers on a Friday as some people will have left by then, but overall the classes were going as well as last year. The scene at the sports ground was transformed by twenty temporary music classrooms trucked in and arranged in a long line beside the marquee. When I arrived, there was a buzz in the air from music students on their tea break at the marquee's tea counter and tables, while Mairéad Casey and Mick Mulkerrin continued teaching sean nós dancing. I ended up back in Timmy's class in time for another tea break. He was still on a high after last night's performance.
It was Friday again and this time I was experiencing that Friday feeling which comes after a full solid week of dancing. The feeling is called pain. Fortunately the legs only hurt when I stood still; any pain vanished when I was dancing, so I was forced to continue! Helping to relieve my discomfort was Tim Joe O'Riordan and his lovely wife Anne, my first time seeing her after the birth of their son in April. Their music made dancing an effortless delight. The weather had turned stormy again and the view from the Armada's windows was perhaps even more enthralling than in bright sun and blue skies. There was a strong surge in the sea and when waves broke against the rocks the spray shot high into the air. I would have spent the afternoon watching it if I wasn't dancing. I met an old friend for a dance. I like a nice bit of eye contact, more than my fair share I suppose, and she returned it, asking at one point, "Is this a competition?" "No," I said, "it's a pleasure."
I had a new experience in the Lancers Set, fourth figure. In the little Christmas the opposite lady gave tickles to both me and her own partner simultaneously. I had to drop hands to protect myself and the Christmas deteriorated after that. For the second Christmas the opposite gent and I kept the circle so tight that the tickler wasn't free to do her mischief. I'll be forever wary of little Christmases! Dinner tonight was a solitary affair, giving me time to make notes on the week in the quiet Chinese restaurant. I was dancing with international partners all week, but at tonight's ceili in the Mill Marquee with the Turloughmore Ceili Band I ventured as far as Finland, Australia, Canada and Japan. At the end of last night's ceili, a shy Japanese lady got enough courage to ask me for a dance tonight, and I was only happy to oblige, and two others as well. One of them was a fine strong dancer who put me in the mood for some doubles, especially as we were dancing the Ballyvourney Jig. This induced her to giggle and the more she giggled, the more I doubled! I was thankful for the ceili's light crowd, plenty of space and fine music.
Saturday 14 JulyIt may have been stormy this week but at least it was only for a day at a time with alternating days of sunshine. Today was beautiful again and Timmy was still in good form for the last class of the week. He was forever imparting words of wisdom. "You're using everything that has to stay alive in your body," he said, pointing out the healthy benefits of dancing. As a way of thanking Timmy for the tremendously enjoyable week of classes, two of the dancers had taken the surplus tea and biscuit money and presented him with a case of Murphy's stout and a summer school t-shirt. During class one of the summer school organisers briefly consulted with Timmy, who announced with a huge smile that we were invited to dance Hurry the Jug again at tonight's grand concert, which he considered a great privilege and honour. Just three of the original eight could dance tonight, including myself, so most of team had changed. Timmy said he'd dance with us, which gave us extra confidence. We practiced once again after class and agreed to meet at the hall at half seven.
All the dance classes finished up an hour early so that we could all meet for an hour-long ceili in the Community Hall. The last figure of the Mazurka Set was underway as I arrived. We next danced the Sliabh Luachra, most of which was called by Timmy, and finished up with the Caledonian. Afterward I went to the Armada where I had taken most of my lunches during the week. There was a busy carvery in the Lower Deck at that time, but I preferred the little-known snack bar in the adjacent restaurant-no queuing, sandwiches freshly made to order and a quiet room. Copperplate Ceili Band made their second Armada appearance this afternoon. In one of the sets, my corner lady asked what I thought of the band. "I think they're great," I said, noticing that she looked suspiciously like the wife of one of the band members. "What do you think of them?" "Brilliant!" she said without hesitation. "You're paid to say that!" I laughed. But I had to agree with her. While the feet definitely get tired after ten days of dancing, I also noticed that the mind gets tired too. I found myself losing my way in places and forgetting movements I know perfectly well. Nevertheless I was still having a great time and had no intention of stopping until the last set was over. Actually I left that ceili early to look in on the dancing in the Quilty Tavern, where Tim Joe and Alan (in place of Anne) were playing and a solitary set was dancing. I joined them for a couple of sets and then my dinner date and I had a quick meal in the adjoining restaurant.
I met Timmy on the street outside the Community Hall and he ushered me through the special 'Artistes Only' door into the 'green room' for performers awaiting their turn on stage. I met a few of our team while Timmy returned to the street to look out for the others. There was a nice spread of sandwiches, tea and soft drinks available and we stood around admiring the famous musicians all around us. As a mere lowly set dancer I felt a bit like the scum of the earth among the great names of Irish music, but everyone was very pleasant. Finally when our full team had assembled, we managed one final practice in a rough, cramped outdoor corridor beside the hall. Timmy had engaged a box player, but he was not to be found. Luckily Mick Mulcahy and family from west Limerick agreed to play for us after playing a few tunes on their own. We waited in a tiny, crowded room beside the stage until summoned. We took our positions, Timmy spoke a few words, and I glanced over the audience and saw waves and smiles from friends everywhere. The dancing proceeded faultlessly with just one minor mistake by our dance master himself, when he attempted the half chain instead of the quarter chain. He told us in class many times that if we make a mistake, go home and pick up the next move from there, which is exactly what he did. The gents' swing in the figure generated a milder reaction than we heard from the audience of dancers on Thursday. Nevertheless we were thrilled with the performance and congratulated each other as we made our way back to the green room. When I left the hall the sky mirrored my joy with a fantastic rainbow arching over the houses on the street. Back in Quilty later, I was hoping for more of a crowd for Tim Joe and Alan's second ceili of the day there. My wish came true as the hall filled with fifteen sets or so and there was great fun to be found in the lovely partners I danced with there. For the final hour I went over to the Mill Marquee for the last couple of dances with the Four Courts and a good end to the Willie Clancy Summer School.
Sunday 15 JulyOne last ceili remained at the Armada, the final farewell with Johnny Reidy. The day didn't look optimistic, but the sun returned around the time the ceili began. An Australian informed me that this was St Swithin's Day, the special feature of which, according to legend, is that whatever weather we get today will continue for forty days. The day was both sunny and rainy so the typical Irish mixed weather was expected to continue. People began to form sets around fifteen minutes before we actually heard any music, so keen were they to dance. The excitement was unbeatable. Chills buzzed along my spine when the music began and I felt as energised as if it was the first ceili of the week rather than the last. The hall was filled with limitless joy, which emerged on every face as a big smile. Someone told me, "You need roller skates for Johnny Reidy," but we sprout wings when we hear his music.
Johnny was just as pleased as the rest of us. In the break he estimated the size of the crowd at sixty sets, and thought there were probably as many as 100 at his previous ceili here on Friday night. Today's crowd was tight on the main floor, but the extra flooring to the sides was spacious. When the band's break was over and they returned to the stage they found the floor already full of sets patiently waiting for the next set. Among the sets danced was the Claddagh, which was regularly danced during the week without assistance by a caller, though the infamous third figure foiled most of those who hadn't practiced the set before.
Just before the last set, Claire Burke, wife of the late Johnny Burke who owned the hotel and started the set dancing here, spoke a few genuine and heartfelt words of thanks and appreciation to the dancers, musicians and staff who made it another successful ten days. She said that this was the first time they'd organised the event without Johnny's help and hoped they had got it right. She welcomed any suggestions for improvements. Mary Murrihy, the wife of P J Murrihy from Mullagh, Co Clare, was singled out as someone who'd danced a total of 152 sets over the course of the festival. She probably isn't the only one to dance that many, but not many of us would be able to keep an accurate count!
Johnny launched into the final Lancers Set which climaxed with his thrilling version of The Tamlin Reel and continued past the end of the dance to cheers and applause. Then the band played the national anthem so sweetly and softly that I'm sure many were close to tears. I was. It took most of an hour before any of us even remembered that we had homes to go to. Johnny was the only one packing up, assisted by numerous grateful dancers.
Despite all the buckets of sweat drained out of me and all the dust carried home in my lungs, I wasn't ready to stop just yet. At Vaughan's Barn that night I found several fellow Miltown refugees left homeless by the end of the festival and not yet ready to stop dancing. The ceili with the Four Courts in the barn was a beautiful end to the best dancing of the year. I was left longing for more.
The weekend of the 28th and 29th of April saw the arrival of a group of dedicated set dancers to Lordship, Cooley Peninsula, Co Louth, for the 24th annual set dancing weekend organised by the St Patrick's Scór committee. The weekend was blessed with warm sunshine and the beautiful Cooley Mountains scenery was at its best.
Gerry Butler, our tutor for the set dancing, arrived promptly at 10am and when he had his equipment set up, we all had the welcoming cupán tae. The weekend got underway with the dancing of the Connemara Set. Gerry then proceeded to teach the Atha Caoire Set. This is a lovely west Cork polka danced regularly in competition by Joe Mannix and his group from Dunmanway.
Gerry told us he learned this set from the Cork group at 6am during the 2006 World Fleadh in Ballybunion, Co Kerry. Obviously the west Cork people either get up very early or go to bed very late! Anyway we were delighted to learn the set with that complicated hornpipe figure, up here in the Cooley Mountains. On completing the teaching of this set we went for lunch, which was prepared downstairs in the sports complex.
After a stroll in the sunshine we got back to the dancing. Gerry then did three parts of the Clare Lancers Set. His reason for doing this was that presently many dancers are dancing a bastardised version of some of the figures and Gerry was anxious that it should be danced as traditionally danced and taught. This dance was revived in the early eighties by the McNamara family from Crusheen, who danced it in a beautiful traditional east Clare style. It is a credit to Gerry that as a young teacher he is very conscious of the traditional style of dancing and wants to ensure that the tradition is maintained.
Next we were taught some two-hand dances, namely the Long German, the Circle Waltz and the Spanish Jive, which was a big hit. Back for some more refreshments and the evening finished with the teaching of our local Cúchulainn Set and Eddie Bradley's Millennium Barn Dance which we had learned in Cavan from Marie Garrity. The dancers went home happy but tired and went for a rest in preparation for the ceilidhe.
Many of the ladies present at the workshop (not all single ladies) commented on how well Gerry looked in his Louis Copeland suit. We were all suitably impressed by the very high dress standard set by Gerry.
At our weekend this year we were privileged to have with us a busload of people from the Sean Treacy Comhaltas branch. They travelled from Dublin to join us for the ceili and as some of the group were musicians they gathered in the upper room on the premises for a musical session. Lorraine Dunne, a member of our club, arranged for local musicians to attend the session and it was considered a bit of a coup that she had Gerry (fiddle) O'Connor attending. Reports were that the session was most enjoyable. As many of the Dublin group were set dancers they joined us for our ceili where the music was supplied by the ever popular Glenside Ceili Band.
On Sunday morning after the usual cup of tea a group of about fifty people joined my wife Kathleen in the sean nós dancing workshop. Again we were joined by some of the Sean Treacy group for this session which was well received. The entire group learned ten steps which were danced to the sounds of Miss McLeod's Reel from Andrew McNamara's CD The Dawn. It was obvious from the enthusiasm shown by all the participants that sean nós dancing is enjoying a revival.
Again after a light lunch the group assembled for the final ceili of the weekend. The Glenside supplied the music once more and the atmosphere in the hall was electric. We were entertained by two girls from the Sean Treacy group who danced for us, including a lovely brush dance which I can only say was professionally performed. After the tea at half time John Mulligan of the Sean Treacy group made a presentation of a beautiful Kilkenny vase to Kathleen and myself who accepted it on behalf of our committee.
Our workshop had an international dimension this year with the attendance of Alice Herrmann from Germany who was in Ireland on holiday and was delighted to be able to attend. Dermot from Manchester took an early flight on Saturday morning to attend our workshop and flew out again on Sunday afternoon. The effort people make to attend set dancing workshops amazes me.
Our ceili finished at 5.30pm and another successful workshop came to an end. If the good Lord spares us we hope to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year and after that we will probably ride off into the sunset.
On Saturday, June 23rd, Mariko Terada and I, both from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ) Japan, were kindly invited by Hitachi Irish Dance Club to its ceili held at The Stone Beach, an Italian restaurant in Ishiyama Town, Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. It took me as long as five hours to travel from Kyoto (that's where I live now) to Hitachi by train, but I was determined to go because the ceili was the club's final one in its five-year history.
Hitachi City, about 120km northeast of Tokyo, has a population of 197,000 and is well known as the home of Hitachi Ltd, an international company manufacturing electrical appliances. Hitachi Irish Dance Club, formerly named as the Hitachi Irish Dancers, was organized in March 2002 to perform Irish dancing at an Altan concert at the Hitachi Civic Center in August 2002. Because all the members, young and old, were beginners of Irish dancing, Tokyo-based CCÉ Japan was requested to teach them how to dance. This is how I got acquainted with them (I was living in Tokyo then). Through five months of hard work, they mastered the Bonfire Dance, and the performance was a great success. Their first 'mission' was completed, but a few months later the dancers got together to dance again as Hitachi Irish Dance Club. Since then, they have been learning set dancing and old-style step dancing under the guidance of CCÉ Japan. They performed at various occasions including a concert by Carlos Nuñez in December 2003. In recent years, however, club members have been very busy with their families and work. Thus they have decided to give themselves a break, with their second mission completed. This is not the end of Hitachi Irish Dance Club, but just a little long break until their next mission is called.
The ceili started at 6.15pm with nice dining and wining. At about 6.30, the Castle Set was called, and with two sets we danced to the gentle music played by the Wild Geese, a group of musicians from Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture. We enjoyed dancing the hornpipe. I was amazed to see the quick footwork of the Hitachi dancers, one of whom was in her sixties, and more surprisingly, she learned the dancing only at the club-they met only twice per month. After some dining again (the spaghetti was just great), Mariko performed St Patrick's Day and I did a brush dance. While listening to the Wild Geese playing some tunes and singing Irish songs, we enjoyed eating, drinking, dancing and talking. When the Ballyvourney Jig Set was called, there was only one set on the floor, as the rest were already full or drunk or both. Before moving to the Slip Jig and the Priest and His Boots, a young gentleman entertained us with some magic tricks. He was the fiancé of Mie Iijima, MC of the day, and at that time, their wedding was just four days away! It was almost 9pm already, and we danced a few figures from the Plain as the final set of the ceili. Everyone was smiling, having a great time.
The ceili was just superb. I would like to thank all the dancers of Hitachi Irish Dance Club and all the musicians of the Wild Geese. My special thanks go to Ms Mie Iijima (now Mrs Yashiki) and her mother Mrs Shizuyo Iijima for organizing this wonderful ceili and managing the club in recent years; and Mr and Mrs Hiroshi and Kyoto Kogure for starting the club and managing it for the early years. I would also like to thank Mr Satoshi Suzuki from Hitachi Civic Center for supporting the club, and all from CCÉ Japan who shared their love for dancing with the Hitachi dancers.
Tamiko Oyama, Kyoto, Japan
We buried a great dancer, musician, storyteller and character on June 14th, Matty Teehan. Matty was born in Gorthnahoe, Co Tipperary, in 1922 and grew up in a family steeped in the Irish tradition. His mother played melodeon for dances in their own home. At an early age Matty decided to take up the tin whistle, so he walked from his home to The Commons and bought a penny whistle. By the time he arrived home Matty was able to play his first tune, Wrap the Green Flag Around Me. He progressed to the flute and began to accompany his mother and brother Paddy at the house dances.
Set dancing was Matty's favourite pastime. At a young age he learnt to dance the Cashel Set and local sean nós steps. He often danced all night at the platforms and house dances around the Gorthnahoe area. The Cashel was the most popular set, but on occasions the Ballycommon and the Lancers were danced. Matty danced the Cashel a bit different from the way we dance it today and he called it the Castle Set. He danced it by doubling up the second figure and in the third figure instead of the single dancers advancing and retiring they swing.
In 1940 during the emergency Matt joined the army-the 31st Battalion of the Southern Command. In the army he was decorated by Taoiseach Eamonn DeValera at manoeuvres over the Blackwater near Fermoy. He was also asked to join the 31st Battalion Army Jazz and Ceili Band. The band played at all sorts of functions from hunt balls to ceilis.
He moved to Cork in the 1950s and was instrumental in starting music and dancing sessions there, and played with many a band, including the Leeside, Muskerry Blackthorn and Kevin Cronin ceili bands. Later he was a founder of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Cork and was chairman of the Cork Pipers' Club and the Tipperary Men's Association. Over the years he played in many sessions in Cork City including the Country Club, Gables Bar and An Spailpín Fánach. Matty could also be heard all over the country at traditional gatherings, festivals, threshings and fleadhs. He made many trips abroad too, bringing his music to Cornwall, the Isle of Man, London, Italy and Lincoln.
In 1994 he produced a cassette of his music entitled Trip to Sliabh Arda. The tape features some of his favorite Tipperary polkas and local tunes for the Cashel Set. Among the many musicians to play on the tape included Seamus Creagh, William Hammond, Linda Quinlan and Danny Maidhicí O'Súilleabháin.
He loved meeting musicians, dancers, old friends and family from Ireland or abroad whenever they visited him in Cork. His warmth and good humour left a lasting impression on everybody that met him. Matty and his wife Eileen reared two sons, Eamonn and Seamus, and a daughter Kathleen at their home in Ballyphehane.
In 2004 for his contribution to Cork music, the Cork Folk Festival paid tribute to Matty at a concert that featured Jackie Daly, Seamus Begley, Seamus Creagh, Lena Bean Uí Shé and Aidan Coffey.
Matty continued to play in the Pier Head Bar in Cork every Thursday night up to the week before he died with Rory O'Donovan, Charlie Healy and many more. He died peacefully at home on Monday 11th of June.
Matty Teehan will be greatly missed but will never be forgotten.
William Hammond, Cork Folk Festival
At 7.30am we awoke to the sound of rain. On looking out of the bedroom window our eyes confirmed what our ears had heard and it was coming down straight like 'stair rods', as we have heard it described before. My wife Annie and I were due to do a set dance workshop and ceili on Cape Clear Island with the Ring of Kerry Set Dancers visiting from Washington DC. The trees in the garden began to sway and the wind was getting up! We were expecting to take the ferry from Baltimore, west Cork, to the island for the day. The ferry was tied up at the quay. The captain arrived and started the engines (two 220 horsepower John Deere engines, for the technically minded) which were to propel us at a good speed to our destination, the North Harbour of the island, forty minutes away. We all boarded, found a comfortable spot to relax on the cruise and listened to the commentary about what we would be due to see en route.
We had left Baltimore harbour on the lovely new ferry, the Cailín Oír. Our first dance of the day was about ten minutes into the journey-it was 'Rock and Roll'. We went further out into the Atlantic Ocean where there was some shelter from the surrounding islands. The next dance we did was a version of the 'Pole Dance', as the ferry dipped into the by now very high sea! We were near the route where the ill-fated Fastnet race came to grief, but there was no need for worry as our skipper was a very experienced man and took us all safely into the North Harbour of Cape Clear Island.
On arrival, we headed to the island club, where Séamus O'Driscoll gave a talk to the assembled guests. (Not one green face or mal de mer amongst them!) The talk by Séamus set everybody up for their walk about on the Island-history, geography and archaeology.
The sun came out and the temperature was 19ºC and it was as if St Kieran, the patron saint of the island, had removed the clouds for us. While some of the dancers went walking, for a couple of hours Annie and myself stayed in the clubhouse where some of the forty travellers were eager to get some tuition. We showed them some basic sean nós steps and two-hand dances. Although experienced dancers, they were looking to learn something new.
There were comments about how 'sloppy' set dancing is becoming, and how this is referred to as 'having fun'! That whole debate has been aired in this magazine before and hopefully in the new year all workshops will examine this aspect of set dancing, along with 'where should we go from here?' There is a feel good factor, when the set has been completed well, not to competition standard, mind you, but that's another story!
We started back after lunch, with the dancers having re-invigorated themselves with their sandwiches, fruit, etc. We got stuck into some sets we were asked for. We took time over the square of the Black Valley Square Jig until everyone was happy with it. It was the day of the Munster final (Cork lost to Kerry!) and a few non-dancers had drifted into the club, hoping to watch the match on TV. Alas, this was not to be, but most stayed to watch the class in progress and moved on as kick-off time came around.
Music for the day was played on button accordion by Richard Lucey and on fiddle by Cathy Cooke. Richard's playing was a joy to dance to and Annie, who called the sets for the afternoon ceili, commented on how natural it was. Richard's style is steeped in west Cork, and anyone who has danced to the Abbey Ceili Band will know what I mean. The afternoon went on with a few songs, waltzes and, of course, set dancing. A request for a couple of ceili dances was no problem. The Haymakers Jig was a laugh a minute, and the clapping and hoots could be heard back on the mainland.
At 6.15pm the ferry left North Harbour and out into the Atlantic for our return to Baltimore. The sea by now had calmed a little. We could see the waves behind us, but their strength had gone. Now and then, one wave would lift the ferry for a few moments and then leave it gently down. Dancers had come from Schull, Ballydehob and Baltimore to have a great day, and the people who, on looking out of their bedroom window that morning, had decided against travelling will surely be sorry for having missed it.
The harbour in Baltimore was flat and calm. The ferry tied up to the quay wall from where earlier we had left with trepidation. People hugged and said goodbye, knowing that they would come again regardless of the weather. We packed our car and headed back to Schull. Not too much talking, just reflecting on the day and a whole lot of new friends from the USA.
Bert Moran, Schull, Co Cork
It is with deep regret that I write this tribute to Joan Shelly, who passed away on May 9th. She was what you might call a mighty woman for the town of Thurles, Co Tipperary. Anything that was good and charitable she was involved in it. Just to name a few - a member of the Irish Countrywomen's Association for forty years, the Thurles Ceili and Set Club seventeen years, Glór na nGael five years, musical society, thrift shop and any charity that needed a collector at church gates or outside shops, she was willing to help. She helped to initiate the Dúrlas Éile town flag, little thinking she would be the first to wear it when it was draped over her coffin-none more deserving.
It showed the esteem in which she was held by the large attendance at her removal where a guard of honour was held by ICA, Glór na nGael and all her set dancing friends from every county in the country. Joan was loved and respected by everyone who came in contact with her. The concelebrated Mass was said by her nephew, Fr Kevin Fallon, with the priests of the parish. Before Joan went to her final resting place with her husband Larry, her son Finbarr thanked everyone for their kindness to their mother during the period of her sickness and for their sympathy on her death.
As a celebration of Joan's life her dancing friends danced a figure of the Newport Set, her favourite set, and music was supplied by Tony Power. Joan came from Coolaney in Sligo but was a mighty Thurles woman.
Joan will be greatly missed by everyone but none more so than by her beloved daughter Karan, her sons Gerry, Finbarr, Lawrence and Derek, their families and her sisters and brothers, to whom we offer our greatest sympathy. She will always be with us.
Ar deis dé a anam dilis.
Michael Loughnane, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Here are some photos from our June 8-10 workshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with Gerard Butler. As you can see, the workshop went really well. We were a little worried doing a summer workshop, a time when many Minnesotans want to be out in their gardens, fishing, boating, etc-to tell you the truth, I was praying for a little rain. But we had a really good turnout (even though the weather was lovely) and everyone had a great time, as they always do at Ger's workshops. The sean nós classes went especially well-people are mad for step dancing in this town. Of course, there was also set dancing. We picked up the Borlin Set, which is still new to our fledgling set dance community here. Plus, we got to learn some new steps for sets (my favorite workshop) and I got my first jive lesson, which I've wanted to learn for a couple of years now.
Most of the regulars found time to make it to at least one class or ceili, and we also saw some brand new (and enthusiastic) faces, which was great. We hope to see them again. Set dancing is taking off more and more with each event here and I am thrilled!
Karen Cieminski, Minneapolis, Minnesota
National Folk Festival
This photo below shows part of the crowd at the Irish National Ceili held during the National Folk Festival at Easter. It wasn't the correct date, however we managed to have well over 200 people dancing two-hand dances in memory of Donncha Ó Muíneacháin. Sprinkled throughout the sets, waltzes and ceili dances were the Peeler and the Goat, Two-hand Jig, Northern Irish Pride of Erin, Two-hand Reel and the Stack of Barley. Donncha himself taught the Peeler and the Goat when he travelled to Australia with Na Ridiri in 1994. He is gone but certainly not forgotten.
Each year at our National Folk Festival the Traditional Social Dance Association of Victoria (TSDAV) holds a dance writing competition. The adjudicators make their decisions from what can be a great variety of dances ranging from Irish and Scottish to Australian and old time, quadrilles, longways sets and couple dances in two categories-advanced and beginners. One of the members of our Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers, Des Jackson, hails from County Antrim and when he found there was no Antrim Set he decided to compose one. Thus was born the Antrim Square Set comprising three figures, a reel, a jig and a slide. Des was the joint winner of the advanced category-his set is very popular and frequently danced here.
Margaret Winnett, Sydney, Australia
Three-day eventDear Bill,
I received my copy of Set Dancing News today [5 June] and I must say that I was delighted with your article on our Frankie Roddy day of set dancing in Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal. We have organized a hotel in Derry for next year and it will be a three-day event, so we're all looking forward to that. Thanks again, Bill.
Love and Blessings,
Maura Herron, Derry
Sunday commencement timeDear Bill,
May I please voice my opinion on the commencement time of Sunday afternoon céilithe? I feel 3pm is an appropriate time. This allows patrons who have travelled long distances to reach home at a reasonable time on a dark winter's evening, affording them the chance to recharge for Monday morning. May I also thank ceili organisers for continuing to add new sets to their ceili menus. We all need stimulation and diversion in our lives. The same repertoire of sets would allow stalemate to creep in. Apathetic set dancers would be a sad variety. After all, "Variety is the spice of life."
Noreen O'Connell, Listowel, Co Kerry
Visit to KilfenoraDear Bill,
Thanks for your advice concerning our trip to Ireland. It was a marvelous time. Our first dance in Ireland was at Tí Ghearóid, Oranmore, Co Galway. We couldn't have had a more satisfying introduction to set dance in Ireland. I especially have to thank a man named Jim Connolly who took us in and gave hints through hand and eye signals to help us over our nervousness. The following night [June 14th] at Vaughan's in Kilfenora was outstanding with a very special thanks to Breda and Liam for their friendship and encouragement. (Breda, I'm sorry we didn't make it the following night at the Labane Community Hall.) There was a guest accordion player who was great, Sam O'Doherty from Bansha, Co Tipperary. He played and sang two waltzes and then played for the Plain Set. I have included a photo above from Vaughan's with him playing with the Four Courts Ceili Band.
Our B&B hosts in Doolin, Margaret and John Carey, were especially welcoming with much history and videos of the local dance community. I found a copy of the Set Dancing News at a shop in Galway and will be sending in a subscription. If you could print my thanks to those people mentioned, it would be appreciated very much.
Tom Leith and Deb Brunt, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hexham WeekendHi Bill,
It was lovely to see you and your camera in Hexham. I travelled up with three friends from the Manchester set dancing group. It was great to meet up with friends from Ireland, Scotland and England. The workshops were excellent and the ceilis extremely enjoyable. I would like to thank the organisers for all the hard work they put in. It is so easy just to turn up and think that things just happen-they do not. A tremendous lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes for many months before the event.
Can I appeal to dancers in the UK to support dancing weekends? If we do not give full support the weekends will not be able to continue. It is not always possible for people to travel at weekends due to work, family and financial commitments. If you are able to travel to the various weekends that are held in England please do so, you will not be sorry you made the effort.
On with the dance!
Eileen McGuire, Manchester
Kyoto club's 3rd anniversary
On Sunday, June 3rd, Kyoto Irish Dance Club celebrated its third anniversary at the Pig and Whistle Pub. Our dance club was started in June 2004, when we only had a monthly class, but now the class is open mostly on a weekly basis! At the celebration party, we blew out three candles on the cake which Jin (Ginger) Watanabe had baked for us. Also, as the teacher and organizer, I was presented with a beautiful bouquet and thank-you card from the members. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to every member of the club for their generous support for the three years.
Tamiko Oyama, Kyoto, Japan
A wee note of thanksHi Bill,
Just a wee note to say a huge thank you to all the set dancers who came to our wedding on April 21st last. I married Paul, a brother of Breege Corrigan, one of the Cavan dancers, and we held our reception in the Pikers Lodge Hotel, in Lough Gowna, Co Cavan. A great crew of dancers turned up from all ends of the country, and we managed a variety of figures, which I must say is a challenge in a wedding dress! A lot of our guests had never seen set dancing before and were very taken by it. I think a few are even heading for Miltown Malbay this year.
The day after the wedding Paul, with the help of my sister Sheila, organised a surprise ceili in the Kilbracken Arms in Carrigallen, Co Leitrim, to which more dancers turned up. We had great music by Brian Ború Ceili Band and plenty of lively sets. So a huge thank you to everyone who came on both days, and to the band-ye really made it an extra special occasion.
Niamh Corrigan (Heery, aka one of the Meath girls), Killeshandra, Co Cavan
A great and enjoyable miracleHello Bill,
The Set Dancing News is a lovely magazine-a great mix of reports, photographs and colourful advertisements.
The whole set dancing popularity is a great and enjoyable miracle-you play a great part in it.
Good luck for the summer,
Aidan Sharkey, Castletown, Co Laois
Manchester loves Clonoulty
I hope you will find a little spot on your letters page for this thank you note. A group of dancers from Manchester made the journey to Clonoulty, Co Tipperary, to the Connie Ryan weekend and we didn't regret it. All 25 of us had a brilliant time. We arrived in the marquee to a tumultuous welcome. The friendship, the music and the weather were second to none. A big thank-you to all concerned. We are looking forward to next year already.
May I take this opportunity to thank you for your excellent magazine.
Josephine Murtagh, Manchester, England
Clonoulty moving to CashelDear Bill,
Just a short note to thank each and everyone for making the Connie Ryan Gathering a great sucess. To all the ceili bands, to the dance teachers, to all the MCs, guest MCs and everyone that helped in any way, we express our sincere thanks. Lastly to all the dancers without whom the Gathering would not exist, we are always grateful for your mighty support and thanks again from the organising committee.
The 2008 Connie Ryan Gathering has already been organised. However there will be a change of venue, this due to the fact that the area where we erected the marquee could not be guaranteed as being available next June.
In light of this the only way we could continue was to move to a new venue. So the 2008 Connie Ryan Gathering will take place in Halla Na Feile in Cashel, Co Tipperary, on the weekend of 6th, 7th and 8th June. The bands are booked and we hope to meet you all in Cashel for the tenth Connie Ryan Gathering.
Billy Maher, Festival Coordinator, Clonoulty, Co Tipperary
Joan's ceilisDear Bill,
Bar yourself, nobody has written as extensively in the Set Dancing News about set dancing events as Joan Pollard Carew. Always, she gives full credit where it is due.
However, not everybody knows that she is the mainstay behind the Devil's Bit ceilis which are held in the Templemore Arms Hotel, Templemore, Co Tipperary, on a regular basis. Along with her cohorts, Danny and Mary Webster, she established the club a couple of years ago and it is now one of the foremost ceili venues in east Munster.
It would be untypical of Joan to use the magazine as a vehicle for promoting her ceilis, but I have no hesitation in recommending them wholeheartedly to all and sundry.
The ceilis, held in the intimate confines of a ballroom which can contain fourteen sets or so, are a breath of fresh air for all who frequent them. A first-class floor and a wonderful atmosphere ensure that the keynote is enjoyment and camaraderie for the dancers, some of whom travel long distances for their entertainment.
To cap it all, Joan always produces a most imaginative selection of sets, covering every province, literally, and emanating from her vast repertoire, gleaned from her consistent attendance at workshops. For those of us who mightn't be as au fait with them as she, I have to say she is one of the best callers in the country, with nobody left in the lurch.
I have penned this note to inform your readership that the Devil's Bit Club is one of the jewels in the set dancer's calendar. And I almost forgot the fresh scones during the break! They are not the devil's 'bit', in case somebody hasn't heard the legend!
Carry on, Joan and company, and others will come to enjoy what some of us now regard as one of the most pleasant venues on our set dancing rambles.
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
Dancers were soon gaspingDear Bill,
On Sunday 9th June, Johnny Reidy brought his band to the Cois Abhann Centre in Hollymount, Co Mayo. It was an extremely hot night, the hall filled to capacity and great throngs of dancers were soon gasping, as we were not used to such fast music. It was really great to sit back and listen to it, as the younger ones soon got into the rhythm. A great night of dancing was enjoyed by all. We all looked forward to the tea after such exertion, and the spread laid out surpassed all other teas. Thanks to Gertie and her loyal crew for such a good night, and to the band for travelling so far to provide us with such fabulous music.
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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