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).
On Thursday July 24th the set dancing community was shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely death of Eamon McKeaney. Eamon had been ill for a very short time, an illness which he bore with fortitude and the firm belief that he could beat this disease.
Eamon was a winner and the way in which he dealt with sickness was no different than the way he dealt with every aspect of his life. He was an eternal optimist, always ready with a witty quip and with the divil dancing in his piercing blue eyes! He was stoic right to the end and endeavoured to be upbeat with everyone, never feeling pity for himself but trying instead to make the inevitable easier for those he left behind.
Eamon was a wonderful dancer, fit and light on his feet, an ability no doubt handed down from his father Packy McKeaney who was an exceptional step dancer and who at 93 only predeceased Eamon on February 24th this year. In 1994 Eamon and Teresa, his wife, founded the Shannean Set Dancers. He was a dedicated teacher and very generous with his time and skills. Always a perfectionist, his attention to detail was appreciated by all. He steered his troupe through Scór on numerous occasions and was intensely proud of their successes.
He was a leading light with the Emerald Revellers and danced and sang with them when they toured Britain, Europe and the USA. He also captained the Cashel and the Belcoo mummers every Christmas when these groups went out to raise money for various charities.
He was unstinting in his commitment to any undertaking and was a family man to the core of his being. He took great delight in his two-year-old granddaughter, Caoimhe, and was rarely seen out unaccompanied by Teresa. They had what most couples seldom achieve - a true togetherness in all facets of their lives. Whether it was the construction of a shed (Eamon was a farmer among other things) or tripping lightly across the boards of a stage in Florida, they were together!
On Saturday July 21st he proudly walked his daughter, Edwina, up the aisle of St Joseph's Church, Cashel, for her marriage to Mark Gallagher. Little did any of the wedding guests realise that eight short days later we would follow his remains down the same aisle. There was a capacity crowd at his funeral as was fitting for a man of his stature in the local and the wider community. The guards of honour which lined the funeral route gave an indication of the esteem in which Eamon was rightly held.
In a wonderful celebration of a life cut cruelly short, a stage was erected in the graveyard and the Emerald Revellers, the Shannean Set Dancers and his cousin Frankie Fox gave a marvellous display of dancing - a truly fitting tribute to a man who loved to dance.
Eamon is survived by his wife Teresa, sons John, Brendan and Seamus, his daughters Edwina and Maresa, his granddaughter Caoimhe and a wide family circle.
Ní bheith a leithéid arís ann go deo.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Rosie Stewart, Belcoo, Co Fermanagh
It is with deep regret that we in O'Dwyers Set Dancing and Culture Group make known the recent untimely passing of Yvonne Dunne, Fancourt, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, following a short illness.
Yvonne was a lady in every sense of the word but most important she was a true and sincere friend to us all. Along with Frances Nixon, she was the dancing teacher in our club, passing on the joy of dancing to the younger people and adults alike. Even when Yvonne was not up on the floor dancing or showing other people the joy of dance she could be seen tapping out the beat of music with her feet.
Our deep loss is also shared by Yvonne's friends in Comhaltas, Balbriggan, Balrothery and Skerries set dancing groups and the other clubs in North County Dublin which she frequently attended.
Deepest sympathies to her husband, two sons, extended family and friends.
Yvonne, you will always be remembered by us. May you rest in peace.
Freda Smith, Chairperson, O'Dwyers Culture Group
Emily Nolan of Ardagh, Co Limerick, and the West Limerick Set Dancing Club departed this life on the 2nd of August 2007. Emily had a smile for everyone she met in her life, her laughter was infectious and everybody loved her. Her passing has left a great void in her family of one son, three daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, and especially her loving husband Stephen, and set dancers countrywide and beyond who had the pleasure of knowing such a special lady.
Emily was an active member of our club since it was founded. She was on all the outings and social events, and was the life of the party always. She was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, but did not give in to it. After diagnosis she travelled to Ibiza and we had a ball in her presence and many more parties after. There are few people in this world who could suffer such discomfort and still smile and have a joke for everyone, but Emily was one of those special people. Her phone was like part of her-you could be guaranteed a joke or two each week to lighten your day. Her home was open to everyone at any time, day or night, where you would be entertained by Emily, Stephen and her lovely dog Java. Her house was like a doll's house where she baked her own bread and pies for visitors, of which there were very many.
A beautiful person, a special friend and a lovely lady. People all over the country will remember with a smile our Emily. Rest in peace.
Ann Curtin, Athea, Co Limerick
Isn't an accordion rather like a human being? It breathes air in and out and uses the small current of wind to generate its notes. The human voice operates in a similar way with our lungs and vocal cords. When Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in public places in 2004, it was a big step toward keeping our lungs healthy. And according to a report in the British Medical Journal in September, the ban has also been beneficial to accordions.
Anecdotal evidence from a survey of instrument repairers suggests that accordions are cleaner since the smoking ban. In smoke-filled pubs prior to the ban, contaminants were filtered through an instrument and deposited inside. The repairers reported that when they opened an accordion, a strong smell of cigarettes would often come from the interior. They found sooty deposits throughout, particularly where air enters through the intake valve and reeds. Some deposits were substantial enough to affect the sound, and some repairmen even claimed that they could tell which key a musician tended to use by the pattern of soot around the reeds. The report notes that the surveyed instrument repairers agree that since the smoking ban there has definitely been an improvement in the accordions they have worked on.
Everyone experiences improved air and cleaner lungs thanks to the smoking ban, and an unexpected side effect is even better music!
Learn to dance with Maureen's DVDA new DVD by dance teacher Maureen Culleton, appropriately entitled Learn to Dance with Maureen Culleton, was launched in the Community Centre, Ballyfin, Co Laois, on December 10th 2007. Providing music for dancing and entertainment at the launch were Sean Norman and his ceili band and singer and accordion player Sean O'Doherty.
Set, ceili, two-hands and old-style step - Maureen loves all types of traditional Irish dance, and performs and teaches them with equal skill and enthusiasm. She concentrates on step and two-hand dances in her DVD, which includes both slow demonstrations for learning and performances danced at normal speed.
Maureen learned her steps from Laois dance master Micheál Ó Duinn and has adapted his teaching methods for the DVD. She teaches five different steps - a jig, reel and hornpipe in the traditional style, plus Jockey to the Fair and the Ballyfin Hunt. She dances with her back to the camera so viewers can easily see and copy her steps. Music is played at a slow tempo for learning and at a slightly faster pace for practice. Two of the dances are more difficult and are also taught without music. Maureen dances the Hurling Boys as a performance without instruction.
The DVD includes eight two-hand dances - Evening Three-Step, Keel Row, Ideal Schottische, Waterfall Waltz, Pat-a-Cake Polka, Irish Highland, Maureen's Waltz and Fiona's Polka. These are demonstration and explained with music, then danced by a group.
Music for all the dances is included on a separate CD included with the DVD, and is playable at both a slow and a normal speed. Maureen is offering the Learn to Dance package at a price of Euro 25 plus postage and packing. Contact Maureen Culleton to obtain a copy for yourself.
Irish grant for Argentina group
The Ambassador of Ireland in Argentina, Philomena Murnaghan, held a reception in the Irish Embassy, Buenos Aires, on 5 October for the Argentina Set Dancers, a group of keen local dancers who were the first to teach sets in that country and probably the whole of South America. Ambassador Murnaghan presented the group with a grant of AR (Euro 215) to encourage their pioneering efforts.
Set dancing began in Argentina last year when Roxana Farina began teaching to a dedicated group of devotees, some of whom travelled to Ireland this year. Roxana developed her interest when she spent four years in Ireland and is delighted to be dancing at home in Argentina. You can reach the group by contacting Roxana Farina.
A major fringe benefit of our favourite pastime of set dancing is the opportunity to travel. The days when every locality had its own set may be long past and lamented by some, but now that everyone knows the same sets we can enjoy them wherever we go, whether in Ireland or around the world. To make a long journey worthwhile I like to go where I can get a lot of dancing, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is one place where there’s a full week of it. The annual Milwaukee Irish Fest offers four days of summer school workshops and four days of live music ceilis, and the local set dancers are so keen that they organise even more dancing during the week.
The Irish Fest Summer School opened officially on Sunday evening, August 12th, at a reception for students and teachers in the Student Union building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in the north of the city. This concluded with a session and sets, and I only arrived from my visit to Minnesota (see The Irish Fair of Minnesota) in time to witness a few final figures of the Cashel Set.
However, after lunch on Monday I was right on time for Patrick O’Dea’s first set dancing workshop in the Student Union. When I first started dancing in London, Patrick was already an established teacher and caller there as a teenager. These days he travels the world as an itinerant dance master from his base in Co Roscommon. Today he began with the Clashmore Set and impressed all in the class with his knowledge, easy explanations and powerful presence.
Patrick didn’t bother with formal demonstrations; instead he quickly demonstrated the trickier moves, gave us plenty of practice and then we were off dancing. Each figure was repeated so that the two or three surplus ladies sitting out could change places with two or three on the floor. As a result most of us were changing partners regularly and I enjoyed meeting all the ladies that came my way.
I had a slight bit of an altercation in the fourth figure of the Clashmore where everyone changes partners. I was dancing my turn with the fourth lady and when finished I inadvertently blocked her as she tried to star in the centre.
“Get out of my way!” she shouted, and I lost no time in doing exactly that. “Just joking,” she added.
Oddly enough in the next moment she did exactly the same thing to her own partner, I couldn’t help myself from laughing.
“It’s totally karma!” she said.
The fun continued with the Down Lancers Set, which Patrick said was very close to the original Lancers introduced to polite society in Dublin in 1817. Patrick chose reels by the Abbey Ceili Band, making it rather less polite and more fun for Milwaukee society in 2007.
Patrick also taught an evening class at 6.30pm, timed so that locals could attend after work, and concentrated on Clare sets. The first of these was the Clare Orange and Green in a version I’ve never seen before. Patrick said it was taught this way when first revived. There were unusual moves in the first three figures, but it was the ladies’ chain I found most difficult. Instead of dancing the usual Plain Set chain, which has been chiselled into my subconscious, in this one the gent stayed in place and turned the lady anticlockwise in front of him. I suspected it was devised by someone who didn’t know how to do a ladies’ chain, but with ample concentration I soon got the hang of it.
After class, dancers and musicians convened in a nearby Sicilian restaurant to dance, play, sing, talk, eat and drink into the early morning. Carini’s Restaurant has space for at least four separate sessions and folks cleared tables from the biggest room to make space for a couple of sets. Some of the musicians were very willing and well able to play for dancing, though it was fairly informal. We sat for a while listening to a blast of polkas when at last one couple got up to dance, but I couldn’t figure out what they were doing. When I joined them with a partner we learned they were attempting the Caledonian so I politely suggested it might be easier if we did the Sliabh Luachra.
Tuesday followed the same schedule, with Patrick teaching afternoon and evening. We finished the Down Lancers and did the Sliabh Fraoch in the first class and in the second finished the Orange and Green and continued with the Labasheeda. He taught a beautiful variation for the jig figure in that set. After the top gents dance around the house with their own lady and the opposite, it’s easy to get confused as the top ladies return to place and the top gents and side ladies position themselves in the corner to house around. In Patrick’s ingenious approach, all four ladies just move one place to the right. This puts the side ladies with top gents and they repeat the figure. Then the ladies move right again and miraculously everyone is back in place, ready for the side gents’ turn.
The session in Carini’s resumed on Tuesday night with even more dancers and musicians. We danced five sets, the Lancers, Cashel, Sliabh Luachra and two Ballyvourneys, so the reels were clearly in the minority among these musicians. Even after the dancing stopped, it was hard to leave the restaurant. On either side of the entrance were large wide windows, both fully open and filled with musicians in full flight, so we stopped awhile on the pavement to listen to the two alfresco sessions before heading home.
Patrick taught the Jenny Lind Set on Wednesday afternoon. He maintained that the set is named after a Swedish opera singer because opera has long been popular in Cork, which has the only purpose-built opera house in Ireland, first opened in 1855. In our final evening class we continued with the Clare theme and the Paris Set. The last figure is danced to hornpipes and marches and comes in various versions. I once counted five ways to dance it and I’m sure there are more. Patrick taught it as we did it back in London many years ago. In the eight-bar march, gents and ladies cast off, meet at the opposite place, and lead around to the place beyond their own. Then in the hornpipe the couples dance two bars in place and house back to home. I became nostalgic for my old London classes.
For entertainment on Wednesday night, local teacher Joanna Dupuis held a party at home for local and visiting set dancers, to which Patrick and members of his classes were invited. Food was excellent, entertainment was top notch and dancing on her oak living room floor a delight.
We were treated to a display of brush dancing before the start of class on Thursday afternoon. A class in sean nós dancing was taught every morning by Brian O’Cuinneghain from Connemara. He gave extra tuition to a couple of students and they were still dancing as I arrived for class. Brian finished up with an impressive brush dance. Patrick used the day to review the sets we danced all week. One of our classmates, Alicia Guinn from Seattle, danced a bit of sean nós by request. When the class finished there was no need for any farewells—we were all meeting again shortly to dance at Irish Fest!
Milwaukee lies along Lake Michigan, and Irish Fest takes place on a dedicated half-mile long fairground site between the lake and a towering highway bridge adjacent to the city centre. The Thursday opening is a small preview of the full Fest as part of the grounds are closed. The dance pavilion with its timber floor is in the closed section, so tonight we danced on an asphalt floor in another of the Fest’s many venues. Normally I’d be reluctant to dance on such a surface, but I couldn’t resist the music and the excitement of being here and so danced every set. Music was by the Clare Ceili Band, five great young musicians visiting from Clare and making their debut here. Set and ceili dancing get equal time in the Fest programme, with alternating sessions of ninety minutes throughout the opening hours. After the set dancers’ time was up, the band continued playing for ceili dancing. Most set dancers, myself included, took a break to check out the other entertainment and attractions, though there were a handful of keen individuals who danced at every opportunity.
The Fest reopened for business on Friday afternoon at 4pm, with free entry until 5. I arrived at the main entrance just before 4 when there was a huge throng waiting, and we squeezed through the gates with a new world to explore. Dancing is only a tiny fraction of the activities available here, and in my wanderings during the day, I attended a lecture by author Cynthia Neale, saw Irish dogs being groomed, explored a genealogy tent stuffed with computers, browsed the dozens of market stalls and listened in on music everywhere I went. There were also theatre performances, travel promotions, parades, athletic competitions—far too much choice given the limited amount of time between set dancing ceilis!
The first set dancing on Friday was an outdoor introductory workshop at 5pm in beautiful evening sunshine. There were enough local set dancers to partner all the Fest visitors interested in trying the North Kerry Set. Gail McElroy directed the dancers and at the end invited all the beginners to try the set to live music at the 6pm ceili.
The dance pavilion was a high, wide permanent roof covering a temporary floor and a few rows of picnic tables, open to the elements at all sides apart from some canvas partitions. It looked like heaven to me. Beside it were the many tents of the entertaining little cultural village and all essential conveniences. A cash bar under the roof served beer (other bars on the grounds required pre-purchased tickets), a café stood just outside, and the toilets out back had a row of handy bubblers (Milwaukee term for drinking water fountain) for refilling water bottles. There was only time for four or five sets before we had to break for ceili dancing, but the two sessions with local trio Áthas at 6pm and the Clare Ceili Band at 8.45 added up to make a full ceili.
For even more dancing, the local dancers arranged a late night ceili in the local Irish centre beginning at midnight after the Fest closed on Friday night. The Irish Cultural and Heritage Centre is about three miles west of the Fest grounds and a steady stream of dancers arrived carrying edible goodies which they added to a generous food table. Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll and guitarist John Doyle, who had performed earlier at the Fest, were a popular choice to provide the music. Liz brought along two young fiddlers with her and others were invited to join them. The more sets we danced, the more fiddlers I counted—as many as seven, plus the guitar and a bodhrán! At around 3am the dancing finished with a rousing ovation for the players.
On Saturday a team of set dancers was asked to dance the Plain Set as part of a performance by a fiddle and piano duo calling themselves the Cream City Ceili Band. (Milwaukee is called Cream City because many of its buildings were built of pale-coloured bricks fired from local clay.) I was invited to join them and accepted with pleasure. The band was playing on one of the big outdoor stages immediately after opening, so we had to arrive early through the artists’ entrance and go backstage to get ready. About half an hour into the performance we were summoned on stage while the fiddler, Maria Terres, said a few introductory words about set dancing. We had great fun dancing to the lovely music and trying to behave ourselves on stage. A light rain had started but luckily we were under cover. However, the audience was under an open sky and there weren’t many spectators beyond a few loyal, wet friends.
The rain strengthened and never stopped all day, cold winds invaded the grounds from the lake, but still an amazing number of people were present. The main road through the grounds was solid at times. With our sturdy covered pavilion dancers were oblivious to the weather. We danced to Áthas in the afternoon, the Public House Ceili Band from Madison in the afternoon and the Clare Ceili Band at night. Public House were making their farewell appearances here this weekend, playing the final time for set dancing at today’s ceili. So popular were they locally that one lady was in tears when their ceili concluded.
Irish Fest is one of the few places where dancers voluntarily add dust to the floor! Containers of powdered dance floor wax (readily available at the local bowling supply shop, I learned) were available on the stage and were frequently shaken around the sets to improve our ability to glide with ease. It was certainly helpful on such a wet day.
By late afternoon and evening, the grounds were noticeably less crowded, and at the final ceili a steward announced that only two venues remained open, the dancing and another covered pavilion. He thanked us for continuing to dance despite the rain, but what else would we do with a dry floor and good music? When we made our way to the gate after the ceili ended the grounds seemed as deserted as a ghost town.
Sunday continued rainy but everyone was well prepared for it today. Music fans didn’t seem to mind listening to outdoor concerts dressed in plastic Irish Fest raincoats under big brollies. One lady dancer carried two spare full-length raincoats which she kindly supplied for the use of anyone walking her way. There were even some moments when raincoats weren’t entirely necessary, but they were soon followed by moments of drenching lake wind. Of course, none of this mattered while dancing. In the afternoon the one and only Johnny Connolly, the melodeon player from Connemara, was generating his own kind of sunshine in the dance pavilion and in response the dancers were creating plenty of warmth and getting wet in a way that no umbrella could prevent.
An outdoor Siege of Ennis was planned for Sunday afternoon, but because of the rain, it was scaled down and shifted to the dance pavilion during the ceili dancing session. Tables were moved aside in case there was any overflow, and while it was the Fest’s biggest crowd of dancers, everyone fitted onto the spacious floor. Among the participants were the costumed members of an Ennis theatre company and the mayor of Co Clare, Flan Garvey, resplendent in his chain of office and bright green jacket.
Our final set dancing ceili of Irish Fest 2007 was once again by the Clare Ceili Band, who provided a full measure of Clare rhythm, lift and vitality. One of the members was doubly versatile at both music and dance. Immediately after the last figure of the last set, accordion player Conor Fleming from Newmarket-on-Fergus jumped down onto the floor for an energetic and percussive display of step dancing. There were delighted smiles all around.
The band then continued playing for ceili dances, but for the set dancers, it was time for the farewells. The Fest ends with a mass singalong followed by a thrilling firework display, but because of the rain, many folks were heading home early and were going to miss it. So instead, we grabbed hold of each other around the picnic tables next to the plywood dance floor and sang the emotional farewell song that traditionally closes the fest, Wild Mountain Thyme. After that there was no reason to stay around for the real thing, and as we departed in a downpour I thought surely they’d cancel the fireworks.
For one final dose of craic we stopped by the Park East Hotel (now renamed the Comfort Inn) where many of the Fest musicians stay. The bar was full of music and I relaxed in a comfy chair in the lobby chatting to friends. My conversation was distracted when out of the window I could see a display of fireworks in the distance and hear faint booms. A bit of rain can’t stop the fun at the Milwaukee Irish Fest.
To those of us who travel the length and breadth of Ireland to attend céilithe, workshops and summer schools, signposts are very important, in particular the final one which announces the end of our journey and shows the name of our destination. There are two such signposts which cause an extra leap of the heart for me—Clonoulty which brings to mind Connie Ryan, the one to whom we owe a deep debt of gratitude for introducing us to this miraculous entertainment called set dancing; and Drumshanbo where I can undoubtedly say “dance at home” has a particular meaning. The welcome extended to visitors at the Joe Mooney Summer School (21–28 July) is exceptional, not only at the workshops but in retail outlets, B&Bs, etc. Everyone feels at home straight away in this small town. It’s like one big family coming together to celebrate our common interest in dance, music and singing, celebrating friendship, talents and togetherness. This summer school is going from strength to strength due to the tremendous planning and hard work of its director Nancy Woods and her committee. Day and night for a week the town is alive with the sound of feet tapping and music coming from boats, tents, mobile and holiday homes. Feeling totally at home is why people return year after year.
My first love is set-dancing of which there is an abundance. Each morning sets are impeccably taught by Pat Murphy and at each ceili we dance to top bands and again Pat directs the dancers so everyone has a chance to succeed. I think it’s very important that we have this direction or calling so that our beginners and improvers are not lost in the sets and lost to the set dancing community. We must remember that we all had humble beginnings and we were and still are glad of a helping hand and hint. Another asset to the dancing community is the selection of workshops which we can attend—set, sean-nós, two hand. Because all the dancing takes place in the same venue it is possible to meet friends and dance with them every day and night. As I write this article I remember with gratitude and joy the great weeks I have enjoyed with family and friends in Drumshanbo. I thank Nancy Woods for providing this week of music and dance and look forward with eagerness to once again seeing that signpost for the home of dance—Drumshanbo.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
On the weekend before the Milwaukee Irish Fest a smaller festival took place in the next state. The Irish Fair of Minnesota is held every year in the city of St Paul in a park beside the Mississippi River. I hitched a ride with two adventurous Milwaukee dancers on Saturday morning, August 11th, and after five and a half hours and 330 miles we arrived in sweltering heat at Harriet Island Park. Entry was free, as was all the entertainment in white tents dotted around the grassy park. The skyscrapers of St Paul formed a dramatic backdrop, and the broad Mississippi separating city and park was an irresistible attraction.
One of the tents combined drinking and dancing, with a bar at one end and a floor laid on grass at the other. Workshops occupied the floor all day and Máirtín de Cogáin from Carrigaline, Co Cork, was teaching ceili dancing as I arrived. Patrick O’Dea followed with set and two-hand dancing. Sets are still relatively new here so we were a mix of interested beginners and experienced devotees.
Minnesotans are rightfully proud of the Doon Ceili Band, six local musicians who played music for the 7pm ceili. They provided an authentic Irish ceili band sound with a unique collection of tunes. Accordionist and band leader Paddy O’Brien, originally from Co Offaly, keeps a store of 3,000 tunes in his head and so there were fresh tunes played for every figure with frequent changes.
The hot weather and dancing continued into the evening, but relief came during the ceili in the form of a thunderstorm. The skies darkened, thunder and lightning threatened and the downpour drenched the grounds. We were safe inside our tent and kept dancing without any worry, especially as some thoughtful person raised everyone’s possessions from the ground to a table to save them from a soaking. Before long the rained lessened, the sky partly cleared and the sun created a mysterious yellow glow over the park.
My Milwaukee travelling companions and I were kindly lodged overnight by a local dancer who managed to arrange a late night home dancing session with live music, and cook a Sunday morning breakfast feast. When we returned to the Irish Fair it was still hot but felt fresher after the storm. The Doon Ceili Band performed at noon at the main outdoor stage, though no dancers were brave enough to form sets in the blazing sun on concrete or grass. In the middle of the park the fair featured a food court which offered American and Irish goodies. Judging by the length and duration of the queues, the most popular consumables were from the Irish cookie stall, but the one item that took my fancy was local corn on the cob roasted in the husks and served with Kerrygold butter. Over the two days I ate more of them than I’d care to admit in print, and still dreamed about more!
Patrick O’Dea taught more short workshops under the tent—set, two-hand and old-style step, and afterward there was another ceili, but by that time I was back on the road heading for even more adventure in Milwaukee.
It’s difficult to repeat a success but that is exactly what Carmel Kearns managed to do when she organised the fourth marathon set dancing fund raising event in aid of Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin at Bray seafront in Co Wicklow recently.
The rain-sodden summer gave her many headaches as the event had to be cancelled and rescheduled according to the weather, but on Sunday, September 9th, the sun shone and the gentle winds blew making the bandstand in Bray the perfect setting for dancing. Working with Bray Lions Club, Carmel contacted dancers from all over the southeast and they travelled from Carlow, Athy and Wicklow to take part.
The day kicked off at 10am when sets were formed on the Victorian bandstand. Eighteen had been danced by the time the Brian Boru Ceili Band struck up their first notes at 2pm. Local dancer Mick Behan danced every set, as did Kieran Finch. At times Kieran’s exuberance competed with the band, who played with their usual zest and verve, with the tunes travelling all along the seafront and enticing young and old to watch and join in. The sea lapped gently on the beach and the backdrop of Bray Head made the afternoon a really special occasion for everyone taking part. There were plenty of spectators too because set dancing is very much rooted in the local community. Connie Ryan came to Bray over twenty years ago to teach sets so many of the townspeople who would have gone through his classes stopped and watched the proceedings with great nostalgia.
Watching too, but with envy rather than nostalgia, was Anna Furlong with her young son Noah. Anna, who is from Arklow, is expecting her third child in November, so much to her chagrin was unable to dance but she is determined to be at the fifth marathon and will dance all day, she vowed.
In the set dancing calendar this is one of the most enjoyable events as well as being a successful fund raiser.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
This year the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington DC featured the life and culture of the Mekong River, the state of Virginia and Northern Ireland, which presented displays for Bushmills Distillery, Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders and Belleek China. There were playing fields for soccer, rugby and hurling. On various stages you could enjoy storytellers, informal sessions, and name band performances. The largest stage (Lagan Stage) was also the venue spotlighting traditional Northern Ireland dancing.
Centered on the 4th of July celebrations, the Festival ran from June 27 to July 8. During the first half the dancing was from the Ulster-Scots tradition and in the capable hands of Lucy Mulholland and her band, Cuckoo’s Nest. The second half focused on set dancing with Mary Fox from Belfast and her musicians, the All Set ensemble. Mary was assisted by Patrick MacCionnaith whom she introduced as her first set dance instructor.
On July 4th my wife Edie and I took the Metro to downtown Washington for the first set dance workshop, only to discover that access to the Mall was blocked by a parade. After we detoured around it and located a security checkpoint to finally access the Mall, we were at the far, opposite end from the Lagan Stage. At her first workshops Mary presented the first three figures of the Armagh Quadrilles and since there was only one other couple of experienced dancers Mary was happy to see us arrive in our Greater Washington Ceili Club (GWCC) t-shirts. Although four sets formed on the roomy dance floor there was also a lot of turnover as people dropped in and out as they visited other parts of the festival. The teaching pace was relaxed; a welcome aspect with the heat, humidity and storm forecasts. The shade of the tent and the big fans also helped make it tolerable. Mary pulled dancers through the movements several times, gradually building up confidence in the many fledgling dancers. Clearly she was comfortable with the many younger dancers participating; likely a result of her experience with dance programs in the Belfast schools. By the end of the hour-long session, those brave souls felt that same sense of accomplishment we’ve all experienced learning a new dance.
After the workshop Edie and I lingered to hear Cathal McConnell and the group calling themselves Hidden Fermanagh. Fortunately though, we were already headed home before thunderstorms and tornado warnings came through to threaten disruption of the fireworks show.
I was back for more on the 5th, and some other GWCC dancers went to the dance party on Friday and Saturday evenings. They reported a good turnout of interested dancers.
The final workshops were on Sunday July 8th and while I missed the first I was able to make the last one. Mary was continuing with the Fermanagh Set and was teaching the third figure, Steal the Ladies. Again, about four sets had assembled; however, I think that each set completely reset at least twice with all new dancers during the one-hour session. I was solo this time and my second partner was a contra dancer who was keen to try the sets and paid close attention. Our opposite top couple had been with us from the start—until they were snatched to be the “experienced” couple in another set, even though they were first time dancers too. Impressively enough, this group of first-timers executed the complex ladies crossover movement as well as I have seen in some of our regular dance classes. Good work Mary and Patrick! The workshop ended with high-fives among the dancers, friends and family—the heat temporarily forgotten.
Following the dancing was the great music of Craobh Rua who are well-known in the Washington DC area from many previous visits. They benefited mightily from the heavy rains which helped to swell their audience to the tent’s capacity. As the weather started to break I headed out skipping from tent to tent. I picked up a cold Harp, an Indonesian meat skewer and a free bag of fresh Virginia peanuts as I worked my way down the Mall through the rest of the festival.
The normal tourist traffic in the nation’s capital, plus the increase due to the 4th of July celebrations, produced good crowds at the festival on both weekdays and weekend. The bold had fun in their first, brief encounter with Irish set dancing and with any luck maybe some of these dance seeds will germinate later after they have returned home. In this slow summer, the festival dance sessions with Mary and Patrick were a great diversion. It was enjoyable to watch them work and lovely to talk with them afterwards—great ambassadors for Northern Ireland. Thanks for this summer respite.
Paul O'Donnell, Silver Spring, Maryland
The holiday season is a wonderful time for everyone, a time for recharging the batteries, so to speak. When we hear comments like, “It was heaven on earth,” whether the location was northwest Donegal, west Cork or places much further afield, we know that an enjoyable time was had by all.
Instead of having to travel and find my heaven on earth, it came to me in the form of the World Fleadh, August 5–12. I could dance every day and night for one week in my home town of Portlaoise. What a treat! The ideal holiday for me. Never before have I had such a choice of bands, workshops and céilithe right on my doorstep. I must say that the location of the dome and indeed the dome itself was second to none— plenty of safe car parking and refreshments available when needed in the adjacent food court.
There were some highlights for me. When Clann Uí Chuinneagáin presented their workshops on sean nós and brush dancing there weren’t enough brushes to accommodate all participants so every possible prop was used—umbrellas, horse whips, hurleys, mountain climbing aids, sticks and golf clubs. It would have been a great photo, Bill! As well as being a great occasion of dance it also stimulated the imagination to improvise with brush-like props and therefore the fun and enjoyment was super.
At the set dancing workshop presented by Pádraig and Róisín McEneany, a group of people who attend the local facility for people with special needs arrived with their minders to participate in the dancing. They were integrated and facilitated superbly by everyone. For me it was extra special when they left wearing even broader smiles having thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
The final ceili was a great treat also with two ceili bands playing back to back, the Abbey and Matt Cunningham, exhibiting different styles and playing different selections for the various sets. By the conclusion of the evening and the week we had danced our hearts out, made new acquaintances and thoroughly enjoyed chatting and dancing with our regular ceili friends. Did I hear a whisper that there is a possibility of the World Fleadh returning to Portlaoise next year? I sincerely hope so and once again my holiday will be a “dance at home” one!
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
A Monday night in rural Hampshire would not usually be considered an ideal time and place for an outstanding ceili, but Matt Cunningham and his band, a great crowd of over 100 from far and wide, including a visitor from the USA, travelled to Dummer Village Hall on Monday 16th July, and by all accounts, a most fantastic time was had by all.
The evening opened at 8pm on the dot with host Kevin Monaghan calling the Williamstown Set, which was enthusiastically danced by six sets that rapidly became eight as the figures progressed and other dancers arrived, keen to join in.
Ticket sales in advance had enthused the organisers, Basingstoke Set Dancers, but there was concern that the hall would not accommodate all who wanted to attend! The agreement was that the hall would be vacated by midnight, and dancing stopped by 11.30pm, so the sets, waltzes and ceili dances were danced in quick succession, with an interval for the raffle allowing a break for the musicians, who were that night all in top form with their playing. Feedback from those who had danced at Heston and Slough over the previous weekend was that the playing, dancing and general atmosphere was by far “the best ceili” they had been to “in a long time.”
Over the course of the evening, a total of eight sets (Williamstown, Cashel, Clare Lancers, Roscahill, Borlin Valley Polka, Claddagh, Ballyvourney, Plain) were danced, four being called by Kevin Monaghan who leads a class in Basingstoke on Thursday evenings throughout the year.
The Anniversary Waltz was dedicated to Eileen and Michael McCarthy, who had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on 29th June, and who attended with dancers from their class in Southampton, as well as dancers and friends from a class in Bournemouth.
Aidan Vaughan received great applause for his demonstration of sean nós steps, and there was rousing appreciation at the end of the evening for the musicians.
The success of the evening was due to a fortuitous and rare combination of good forward planning, enthusiastic, friendly dancers and wonderful professional musicianship coming together to share a true party atmosphere. The success has encouraged Basingstoke Set Dancers to book a larger hall for Monday 21st July 2008, and Matt has confirmed his attendance.
Those who dared to venture to the Hampshire countryside from London, Sussex, Surrey, Berkshire and Dorset are already marking their diaries for next year’s event, and spending not a little time reminiscing about the unforgettable atmosphere of the evening spent at the Village Hall in Dummer.
Carol Gannon, Readiney, Berkshire
The Friday night venue for the opening ceili of the set dancing weekend in Birmingham, England, 31st August to 2nd September, was the Irish Centre at Digbeth. It’s only a little more than twenty miles from where I live so no hotels for me to worry about—I could travel in each day. Walking up the stairs and feeling nervous I encountered a smile and a friendly word from Bill from Birmingham and I started to relax. Before I had reached the top of the staircase Ron from Derby had caught up with me and I knew then I would be in familiar and friendly company. Ceilis are always friendly but that doesn’t prevent me from being apprehensive when I arrive alone.
From the very beginning the three-man Copperplate Ceili Band played with gusto and we dancers responded accordingly. With only short time gaps between figures, and indeed between the sets, we knew we were going to get the maximum number of sets into our evening—great, that’s what we were there for. There was hardly a chance to wipe the sweat from our brows! I think there were about ten sets on the floor but I was too busy dancing to be sure about that. Later Pádraig and Róisín, tomorrow’s teachers, arrived with Mary Conboy and Donal Morrissey and they watched us enjoy the last part of the evening. What self-control they had to sit still with that lively music going on. Set dancing is most definitely not a spectator sport!
The venue for the Saturday and Sunday workshops and ceilis was St Anne’s Church Hall, also in Digbeth and only a stone’s throw from the Irish Centre. The carpeted area of the church hall had been boarded over temporarily to extend the dancing area to a vast size with the stage at one end and the bar at the other.
As folk arrived for the Saturday morning workshop Marilyn made tea and coffee for us. “No charge,” she said with a cheery smile, explaining that she couldn’t dance just then because of an injury so she was making herself useful. What a lovely welcome that was.
Pádraig and Róisín’s reputation had arrived before them and they lived right up to and above it! When Pádraig started to teach I could tell we were all, experienced and beginners alike, going to benefit from both the content and the manner of his teaching. We began the Saturday morning workshop with jig and polka footwork—instruction, practice, more detailed instruction then more practice to music. In the demonstration Pádraig moved around the hall so everyone could view the steps from the back, the better to follow his example, and the difference between the woman and the man’s stepping was made clear. Talking with friends afterwards it seems I was not alone in my appreciation of doing a bit of footwork.
The first set we were taught was the Fermanagh Quadrilles, which was quite new to me. Pádraig’s teaching was clear and methodical. In particular I appreciated the way that he re-formed each set into two fours when it was time to follow his instructions and walk the main part of each figure. In this way everyone was actively practicing the moves instead of spending half the time watching others. The teaching of each figure was followed by dancing it through twice. I do hope this dance becomes popular at ceilis and that my brain and my feet remember what to do.
We then learned the South Kerry Set. We covered the first three figures in the morning and Pádraig completed it in the afternoon. It’s a lovely dance and in my opinion not as fast as the North and West Kerry sets. Sadly I had to bow out of the afternoon workshop and return home for a family party but folk I talked with seemed very impressed. As well as finishing the South Kerry they learned the Clare Orange and Green Set. I missed a most exciting Saturday evening ceili, again dancing to the Copperplate Ceili Band and with Pádraig calling the three dances he had taught during that day. Pádraig’s calling impressed dancers by its clarity and excellent timing. He called just enough in advance to prepare the dancers for the next move. Pádraig and Róisín were delighted to see that dancers at this ceili were adventurous enough to get up and dance whether they had attended the workshop or not, happy to depend on the calling and the support of others in their set.
I think I was fresher than most for the Sunday morning workshop as most of the dancers there had been dancing non-stop into the early hours, generating enough heat to simulate the tropics I believe. Pádraig, with Róisín’s support as always, taught us some more footwork and then the Aran Set—no housing. We then finished the morning workshop with the Ballycommon Set—lots and lots of housing—so a good balanced choice.
There was probably nothing that escaped the notice of Pádraig or Róisín; one or other of them quietly came to any individual who was having difficulties and personally helped them through it—or under it in my case (figure 1 of the Aran Set)! Mary Conboy was great too. She demonstrated every figure—Beryl Brown pointed out to me Mary’s excellent footwork in one of the demonstrations so I noticed this in particular. Mary also took photographs and generally encouraged folk. Her easy friendly manner made me feel we had known each other for years instead of minutes and we now think of her as Merry Mary.
I felt deflated to see them leave at lunchtime to catch their plane home but as the Copperplate Ceili Band set up shop on the stage the atmosphere built up again. Kate Howes got us all up on the floor and the Sunday afternoon ceili got underway with enthusiasm. Determined not to sit a single dance out for the sake of not having a regular dancing partner for the afternoon I jumped up quickly at the start of every dance, took up a side position and raised my hand for a willing partner. I’m no longer the shy person I used to be pre-set dancing! I’m sure you’ll agree it’s much better to participate than to watch and suffice it to say that I did dance every single dance.
One of my dancing partners said to me, “I only wish I was younger,” which made me realize that I actually felt ageless over this great weekend as I learned new dances with supportive teachers, and made and renewed friendships through the social contact it provided. Many thanks to all who made it happen!
Yvonne Brannigan, Coventry, England
I want to tell you about an old time ceili in Inishowen, Co Donegal. I come here every summer on holiday.
A few miles outside Moville, Inishowen, Donegal, is a beautiful glen called Meenletterbale or the Long Glen. Mrs Annie Crumlish, an elderly woman and mother of thirteen, hosts a ceili in her shed. When I arrived there I was awed by the incredible view. I was looking down a valley to Kinnegoe Bay. We were in a remote part of Donegal. On a clear day from this spot you can see Scotland. This day, however, was anything but clear. It had been raining all week. We had been told to come at 8pm but it actually started at 9pm. The ceili was held in Annie Crumlish’s shed, a 20ft by 20ft (approximately) hall, painted a lovely cream yellow with a nice wooden floor. Since it was a cold stormy night I appreciated the warmth of an old Aga stove in the corner. Several large kettles were preparing the water for the “Tay”. I was made most welcome and told to come inside to wait till 9pm and was offered coffee or tea.
When the crowd did arrive it was a wonderful atmosphere, like a step back in time, like Ireland might have been fifty years ago. The fear an tí was the youngest son, Paul Crumlish, who welcomed everyone and kept the sound system going and played concertina. He knew everyone there and had the gift of the gab and a sense of humor. There were fifteen musicians aged from 13 years to 82 years. I counted three piano accordions, four button accordions, guitars, fiddle, one trumpet, drums and concertina. Three different drummers took turns on drums, including a young lady on holidays from London.
The dancing was mostly old time waltzes, an occasional quick step, barn dance, highlands, schottisches, Shoe the Donkey, etc. I asked why there were no ceili or sets and they explained there were many other places where dancers could set or ceili dance and very few of these places did this old time type of dance. Also the dancers were retired folks who like this style of dance.
The MC called continually for various folk to come up and sing, some very good, others not so good. A storyteller told an amusing story in which she mentioned people present in her funny tale.
At half time the tea and scones were served. I wondered how they had enough for the approximately sixty or so people there. Everyone had brought scones, cakes, etc. There is never an admission charge. Two weeks ago over ninety people were there and it was standing room only.
The musicians were a “jamming” band. Many never played together and some of them were here on holiday. They sounded very well together and played a lot of waltzes and Scottish music from legends like Jimmy Shand. There was a beautiful tribute from the MC to the late Tommy Makem who recently died. They also mentioned the death of a Glen man who had died in Glasgow that week. Lovely dedications were made to my husband and me, the “Yankees”.
When midnight came the ceili was over, people were thanked, goodbyes were said, then I heard a woman say, “Ah, play on. It’s pouring. Sure we can’t go out in that!” Sure enough, it was a torrential downpour, so the band regrouped and they played on an additional forty minutes.
The ceili is held here twice a month in the summer and the last Sunday of the month, 9pm–12am, the rest of the year.
Call Annie Crumlish for directions.
Annemarie McLaughlin, Scotia, New York
It’s usual, here in Milan at the Folkaos club, to end our dancing season with a set dancing workshop. This is the fifth year that we invited Pádraig and Róisín McEneany to teach us new sets and help us improve our steps.
Set Dancing News readers probably know that in northern Italy there are a few groups of passionate set dancers. In Turin and Veneto there are very good dancers and our little group in Milan is trying to reach that level by meeting and dancing to reels, jigs and polkas at least twice a month during the winter.
Thanks to Renzo Foglini’s hospitality (he is the president of the club) Irish dancers now have a home, as the club’s object is to spread the knowledge and practice of folk dances from all over the world. The club can’t afford to organize these workshops more often, but this appointment on May 5–6 with our Irish friends and teachers—as they are far more than just our teachers—couldn’t be missed.
Year by year we and many dancers from all over northern Italy, from Turin to Venice or Bologna, can appreciate Pádraig and Róisín’s ability and patience to teach to both beginners and experienced people together. The McEneanys are great at transmitting the pleasure of set dancing thanks to the Irish atmosphere they create.
Luckily this year they brought some Irish rain that helped keep down the temperature—in the days before the workshop it had been too hot for the season. So on a cool Saturday afternoon we greeted our long time friends, as well as the new ones, and then started with the Sliabh gCua, a lively polka set, going on with the South Sligo Lancers—new sets and figures to review and dance during our winter season!
The teachers showed the basic steps for the beginners and some advanced steps for those who wanted to try something more difficult but more satisfying. Everybody was able to keep the pace so all the dancers enjoyed the afternoon very much.
When evening came we were a bit tired, but hey, it’s Saturday evening, so we had a pizza all together in a nearby pizzeria. After dinner we decided to dance with our friends coming from far away, so we went back to Folkaos and enjoyed dancing the regular sets and those we had just learnt until after midnight.
On Sunday we had the second half of the workshop, and we learnt two other sets, the Skibbereen and the Kildownet Half. In the afternoon our energy was finished, but we found a last resort reserve to learn two two-hand dances.
Finally Pádraig and Róisín had mercy on our feet and the workshop ended—no one could expect and endure more than this!
As always, Pádraig and Róisín proved themselves to be talented teachers. We missed them as soon as they flew back to Ireland, and we’re already looking forward to seeing them again next year. We also hope to meet them at a ceili here or there, as the world is always small for a set dancer.
Massimo Riva, Patrizia Ludovico and Paolo Rosati, Milan, Italy
Ger Butler and dance partner Joanne Logan landed in Sydney on Tuesday 14th August at about 7pm, where despite unseasonable cold, wind and rain, they were warmly greeted by Trish McGrath, teacher of the Harp Set Dancers in Sydney and her sister Marie Doherty. Ger and Joanne were very jet lagged after a marathon trip of more than thirty hours via Amsterdam and Singapore. However they were whisked away to Trish’s home in Hurstville for supper, a meet and greet session with some of the local dancers and a very long sleep!
After the rest Ger was up and ready for his first session, a Wednesday workshop at the Harp Pub in Tempe, the usual meeting place for Trish and her group. About 32 people attended and were treated to a great session of set and two-hand dances including the Borlin Polka Set, North Roscommon Half-Set and the Spanish Jive, a sample of what was ahead in the big weekend.
Thursday and Friday Trish took Ger and Joanne on a sightseeing trip to Darling Harbour, the New Aquarium, the Opera House (they tried to book the venue for a session but no go!) and Circular Quay. By the end of the day all were “walked down to the kneecaps.” A typical Aussie barbecue was hosted by Glen and Logan Sheffer and Trish on the Friday and Ger was able to meet some of the dance group on a social basis.
Saturday and Sunday were the real action days, with workshops and a ceili again at the Harp. The weekend was eagerly supported by dancers from all over the state of New South Wales. Groups came from Newcastle, Penrith, the Blue Mountains and from Canberra in the ACT.
Ger worked the dancers very hard, teaching and refreshing many sets including the Atha Caoire, steps for sets, sean nós and a selection of two-hand dances including the popular Spanish Jive, Polly Glide, Mazurk and a few old favourites. The ceili on Saturday night was a mighty affair with great music provided by Jimmy Mullarkey and friends. A highlight of the evening was a performance of the brush dance when the Harp’s own dancer, Paul Breen, joined Ger on the floor.
Not so bright and early on the Sunday morning the assembled dancers gathered for another session, including the North Roscommmon Half-Set (from Ger’s home county) with appropriate step tuition, the Canadian Barn Dance, Back-to-Back Hornpipe and the Long German. An exhausted but very contented group called it a day and retired for a well-earned rest and to steep the feet.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Ger and Joanne had a few days to relax and enjoy beautiful Sydney—the traditional Harbour Bridge climb, a trip on the Manly ferry with willing guide Glen Sheffer and a jet boat sightseeing trip. Returning to the Harp for a final workshop on Wednesday night, they were enthusiastically greeted by another great group of eager dancers. The workshop provided an introduction to more unusual dances including the Killkenny Lancers and Circle Waltz. For good measure Ger threw in a few more sean nós steps and some popular sets by request.
Ger was suitably farewelled and with heavily packed bags was ready to head south for a set dance week in Melbourne, Victoria. On Thursday 23rd August, he and Joanne flew into the city’s major airport Tullamarine, where they were met by a contingent from the Comhaltas group, including Mary McBride from Mayo, the group’s president. No jet lag this time, and Ger and Joanne had the opportunity to drive around the region sightseeing and of course shopping!
The serious stuff commenced on Saturday with workshops during the day and a ceili in the evening, all at St Ignatius Hall in Richmond, hosted by Comhaltas and Marie Brouder, set dance teacher. Ger warmed up the dancers with the Connemara Set, although warming up was not really needed as the Melbourne weather was warm and sunny and unseasonable! A new lively set was then taught, the Atha Caoire Set, and the first session concluded with the Circle Waltz, just to cool down. After morning tea, a few sean nós steps were for many dancers a first time experience and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Refreshed after the lunch break, the programme continued with a series of two-hand dances which included the Barn Dance, the Back-to-Back Hornpipe and everyone’s favourite, the Spanish Jive. The day finished with another spell of sean nós by popular demand.
The ceili in the evening was a night of great music and dancing. Music master Paddy Fitzgerald was in top form. Ger described Paddy’s box playing as some of the best sean nós dance music that he had ever heard and had the pleasure of dancing to. All of the dancers, about sixty people, were in fine fettle and eventually went home exhausted but very happy.
On the Sunday, Ger fronted up at St James Hall, Ivanhoe, to another day of workshops and an afternoon ceili. This event was hosted by Ina Bertrand’s Claddagh Dancers, including two of their energetic and enthusiastic members, Kirsty Greenwood and Rod Mattingley. The day attracted a capacity attendance of seventy dancers and offered a wide and varied programme, including the Roscommon Lancers and the complicated footwork of the Atha Caoire Set, followed by the ever popular sean nós, a few other familiar sets and a short afternoon ceili—another terrific day.
Monday night it was off to the pub—not for grog this time but yet another session. The Quiet Man is the venue for Marie Brouder’s Monday night class. Ger and Joanne had the night off but were invited along and called a set or two. The small venue was jammed to the rafters with dancing almost cheek to cheek and a great night was had by all!
After a little bit of rest and relaxation it was down to business again on the Wednesday with a workshop and ceili at the Comhaltas class at St Phillips church hall in Collingwood, another full house with seventy dancers of all ages and standards arriving and participating. The Seit Doire Colmcille and the Roscommon Half-Set were among the items on the programme. Music for this event was provided again by the evergreen and inexhaustible Paddy Fitz and musicians from the Melbourne Comhaltas branch.
Friday evening saw the opening of An Céilí Mór Weekend at the Urban Camp in Royal Park, right in the centre of the city of Melbourne. My wife Fay and I organized the weekend for the past twelve years in our home place of Port Fairy, Western Victoria, and were responsible for bringing Ger down to Australia. We relocated the event to Melbourne for 2007 only to allow easier access for all dancers to meet Ger and Joanne. Port Fairy is a four-hour journey from Melbourne and eight hours by car from Adelaide.
The residential weekend attracted a full house of seventy people who were accommodated and had full catering, all within the comfortable, attractive and suitable venue in the city parkland. The dance floor was excellent and used to the max. Dancers travelled from various Australian states and cities—including Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Port Fairy and even Killarney (a village in Western Victoria) and from all over the Melbourne district—to enjoy the workshops, ceili and social events.
Friday night was the usual “Howareye” session with people arriving at all times to enjoy a few dances and supper. Dances were called by many of our homespun Australian teachers and dancers and they were terrific. The evening eventually wound down about 1am, when most dancers retired to rest up in anticipation of the real business on the Saturday and Sunday The Saturday morning began after a pleasant breakfast with all seventy participants eager to learn and be challenged—they did and were! Ger opened the session with a gentle set or two and then introduced more difficult dances which included the Atha Caoire, North Kilkenny and numerous other sets.
The morning was punctuated by a welcome break for tea and the traditional Killarney cakes baked each year by Marguerite Drysdale, one of the Killarney set dancers. She home bakes a massive number of delicious cakes and biscuits each year for all tea breaks and this year those with special dietary requirements were catered for by Rod Mattingley. We learned a series of two-hand dances and a little sean nós and had a welcome lunch break in the sun. The afternoon was even more vigorous with some “gentle” battering steps taught and demonstrated and a little more sean nós together with a few requested sets. Dancers welcomed the dinner break and went away for a well-earned rest and to freshen up for the Céilí Mór which took place after the Aussie barbeque.
The evening format followed the traditions set in previous years, with dancing performances, skits and a competition. The music for the night was provided by one of Australia’s top young bands, Trouble in the Kitchen, who were fantastic. The MC for the evening was Una McAlinden, who handled the job with her usual professional skill and wit. Some of the dances were called by various teachers and dancers. There was a wide variety of styles and interpretations, all excellent and very enjoyable.
The breaks during the band’s rest periods were filled with a series of hilarious performances which brought the house down. The theme was “my favourite town“ and there were dramatised portrayals depicting Beijing, Cork, Geelong, other Australian towns and Tralee, the winning skit. This was an impersonation of Gay Byrne interviewing a series of “Roses” in the famous contest—amazing!
The Céilí Mór eventually closed down at about 1am when tired folk dragged themselves off to bed for a few hours sleep.
Bright (!) and early on the Sunday morning, Ger commenced the final session of his tour and again worked the dancers very hard, introducing more new sets and a recap of steps, battering and the really popular sean nós steps and movements.
A lovely lunch brought the weekend to a close and dancers reluctantly made their weary ways home, some making a twelve-hour trip to Adelaide by coach and others winging away to Sydney, Canberra, etc.
Ger Butler was an extremely hard working teacher and generous to a fault in passing on his knowledge and expertise. He had to be persuaded to stop a one-on-one session at about 3am in order to lock up the premises. We all found Ger and Joanne a pleasure to host and to work with. We look forward to continued communications and contacts from Ireland to Down Under.
Morgan McAlinden, Port Fairy, Western Australia
Tullamore, Co Offaly, was in the spotlight for a few days at the end of August, when it hosted the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, Ireland’s biggest traditional music festival. The Fleadh has come to many towns in Ireland over the past five decades, but never before to the main town of Co Offaly. The people and businesses of Tullamore welcomed the musicians, music fans and dancers, and made everyone feel at home and comfortable. The wide streets, two squares, two hotels, shopping centre and plenty of pubs, cafés and restaurants made the town an ideal location for the festival and were filled with musicians day and night.
When I arrived on Friday, August 24th, the music had already been going for five days in summer school classes. The sheer number of musicians participating in the Fleadh was clearly demonstrated that evening, when 2,700 players gathered in the town square to set a record for the world’s biggest session. They played two-dozen easily accessible tunes to encourage as many as possible to join in, and balloons were released every minute while the music continued.
Four nights of set dancing ceilis plus one afternoon ceili were held in Harriers Athletic Club, about a mile from the town centre. The club grounds served as a campsite for dozens of caravans, and there was still ample space for parking. I was expecting to dance in a big noisy sports hall, but instead was pleasantly surprised with the venue. Entering Harriers Social Centre was a bit like stepping back in time to the showband era. On the way in I passed the cloakroom with hundreds of wire coat hangers waiting for coats. Bright red neon signs identified the ladies’ and gents’ toilets. Mirror balls, disco lights, plastic plants and cobwebs all hung from the ceiling. Upholstered seating cleverly arranged in a zigzag surrounded the dance floor, and a second tier up a few steps permitted spectators an unobstructed view of the action. The spacious and well-seasoned timber floor made for comfortable dancing.
Occupying the stage for Friday night’s ceili was Sean Norman and his band. Sean was in amiable good spirits as ever and he and his nearly new line-up of musicians made mighty music. Maureen Culleton and Nora Carroll shared the calling, which was greatly appreciated, especially for the Claddagh Set.
During Saturday I wandered the town soaking up the festive atmosphere. Parking was trouble-free, and as soon as I found my way to the main street I was offered a free cup of tea and biscuits! The Presbyterian Chapel was open to all for rest, refreshment and trad entertainment.
The street was closed to traffic, and it would have been impassable anyway due to the huge crowds in the centre. Musicians set themselves up at suitable spots along the way on borrowed chairs, steps, walls or the pavement, surrounded by a scrum of keen listeners stretching halfway across the street or more. Gig rigs were installed in each of the town squares to provide entertainment which even larger crowds could easily hear. Every pub was filled with musicians and customers, and the Bridge Hotel accommodated numerous sessions in its lobby, bars, restaurants and open-air patio. The shopping mall was open for business as usual, and it was a peaceful place to listen to a quiet session.
The Fódhla Ceili Band have been the perennial favourites for the Saturday night Fleadh ceilis for many years and their spirited music attracted over twenty sets into the Harriers ballroom. Donal Morrissey called the sets, including another chance at the Claddagh.
On Sunday an afternoon ceili at the Harriers was my first port of call. Music by local duo Colin McGill on piano accordion and James Hogan on keyboard provided plenty of action on the dance floor. James was one of the Fleadh organisers and was responsible for Friday’s record-breaking session.
Afterward I made the trek over to town in beautiful sunshine, passing long queues of incoming traffic. The main street was even more crowded today with great music everywhere I went. Members of the Glenside Ceili Band were seated on a street corner playing for set dancers, a crowd of happy listeners and also for their own pleasure.
The climax of the Fleadh weekend was the ceili band competition held in the parish church of St Mary’s in the town centre. Tickets were not available at the church and had to be purchased in advance. Even so, the event was sold out and every pew in the huge venue was filled on the main floor and in the upstairs gallery. The atmosphere was suitably reverential with total silence while competing bands were performing. I went off to the evening ceili before the competition concluded, and I’m sure the audience wasn’t so restrained at the end.
During Sunday night’s ceili with Matt Cunningham, dancers arriving late brought word that the competition was won by the Allow Ceili Band from Co Cork. Later that night in the bustling Court Hotel members of the band celebrated their good fortune by showing off the big silver trophy and playing in session.
Traffic was allowed back on the street on Monday but musicians were still in session all around town. One crowd in the Bridge Hotel might have been trying to set a world record for both the largest indoor session and the fastest polkas. At the Harriers Club that night the Glenside Ceili Band attracted a full house for the farewell ceili. A guitar had joined the band for the night, and later they invited Fleadh committee members John Gaffey and Frank Brennan to join in as well on bodhrán and fiddle. It made a superb end to a brillliant musical Fleadh!
I am writing to thank Matt Cunningham and the band for taking the time to visit England each year in July.
I was privileged to dance to Matt’s music on three nights. A full house danced the night away at the Sean Dempsey Set Dance Club at St Kentigern’s Parochial Hall in south Manchester on Tuesday, July 17. On the Thursday Matt played to another full house at the Servite Parish Centre in north Manchester for the Caledonian Set Dance Club. A large number travelled from Manchester to the Irish Centre in Leeds on the Sunday night, July 23, for a great night of social dancing and a few sets.
It is always nice to meet Matt and the lads. They are all so friendly and join in with the craic—not forgetting the good music.
Please God we will all retain our health and strength to enable us to look forward to July 2008 for a repeat performance. On with the dance,
Eileen McGuire, Manchester, England
Braved the terrible weatherDear Bill,
If you can spare a little space in the News, I would like to thank all the dancers from far and wide who braved the terrible weather on July 20th to support Matt Cunningham and the Wolverhampton Set Dancers. We had a great night as usual.
We hope to see them again next year. Friday July the 25th 2008 will be the date.
Bridget Chambers, Wolverhampton, England
Smiles and enjoymentHi Bill,
I would just like to say a big thank you to all the people who made the St Anne’s set dancing weekend in St Anne’s Community Centre, Birmingham, August 31st to September 2nd, such a success. Pádraig and Róisín did some excellent workshops for us and Copperplate played some great music at the ceilis. Thanks most of all to the set dancers who came from far and near to support the event. To see the smiles and enjoyment on their faces was worth all the effort! Last but not least, thanks to Linda Reavey for her continued support and encouragement, Mary McParland, Kate Howes and to all the people who helped behind the scenes to make the event happen.
George Hook, Birmingham, England
Every week without fail
Just hoping you have room to mention a ceili we held on September 5th in Newton Abbot, Devon, to celebrate five years of our weekly set dancing club there. A great time was had by all, helped along by some great live music from local band Eight Foot Four. Huge thanks were given to Mary Bingham who has taught the sets with humour, dedication and enthusiasm every week without fail, and to Maggie and Mike Daniel, who willingly donate a great deal of their time and effort to organise everything else. Here’s to the next five years! Thanks!
Lucy Taylor, Devon, England
Rigorous and fascinatingDear Bill,
I hope all is well with you—not working too hard and enjoying some good dancing! I really like the Just a tune column by Nina Watrelot. It’s great to get the history of the tune and the approach is both rigorous and fascinating! I hope the column will continue. It’s well written and totally accessible. Love it!
It might be interesting to have histories of the sets if people can be found to write them to the same standard.
All the best for now, Bill,
Geoff Holland, London,
Two bands your editor had the pleasure of dancing to at August festivals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St Paul, Minnesota, have recent CDs available.
The Doon Ceili Band, is the pride of Irish music lovers and dancers in Minneapolis and St Paul. They play music in a style which appeals to all dancers, quick and lively, in a beautiful combination of box, three flutes, two fiddles and piano. Tunes change often and effortlessly, selected from a full repertoire of both the familiar and the seldom heard.
In 2003 the band got together, led by Paddy O’Brien, the Offaly box player based in St Paul, to play for concerts and ceilis. Their first CD was released last year and is called Around the world for sport. It features an irresistible selection of reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas by the full band, plus a couple of solos for a total of nineteen tracks. Excerpts of the band’s music are available on their website, www.doonceili.com. The CD is available from www.cdbaby.com.
A versatile trio called Áthas are the mainstay of the set dancing scene in Milwaukee. They’re a young band, led by fiddler Heather Lewin-Tiarks, who is backed on guitar and bodhrán by Jeff Ksiazek and Amy Richter. They enjoy playing for concerts and sessions, but really shine at ceilis. Their jigs and reels are plentiful, and they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of polkas and slides. Their version of the Borlin Polka Set is popular among Milwaukee’s dancers, and it is now available for all to hear on their new CD, simply called Áthas, along with ten tracks for listening.
For more information see www.athasmusic.com. Purchase the CD from www.cdbaby.com.
Panoramas of IrelandIf you like looking at ceili and workshop photos but wish they were more fun and interactive, this bit of modern technology is for you. Photographer Peter O’Donnell from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, specialises in capturing panoramas—complete 360 views of the world—of a variety of interesting subjects in Ireland. At a festival in Ballydehob, Co Cork, in April he planted himself and his camera gear into the middle of a sean nós workshop with Edwina Guckian and a ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band. Peter fired the tripod-mounted camera in all directions while the dancing continued around him.
Later, Peter assembled the photos into seamless panoramas on his computer and loaded them onto his website for viewing by all. Five panoramas from the Ballydehob festival can be seen at this website—www.ireland360.com/ballyd. Initially when you view one it appears as a still photo, but by dragging your mouse over it, you can rotate the view to look in every direction, left and right, up and down. You can even zoom closer by pressing the shift key, or zoom out with the control key. Sound recorded at the workshop and ceili plays while viewing to enhance the experience. It’s not quite like being there yourself, but that’s as close as you’ll get in the comfort of your home or office.
Peter’s main website, www.ireland360.com, has many more panoramas available from across Ireland. Most can be viewed full screen for an impressive display, though the Ballydehob ceili and workshop only appear in a small size.
California girl weds Dublin boy
Theresa Savage and Pádraig Timmons celebrated their wedding in style by dancing to the Tulla Ceili Band at their reception. The couple married in Ratoath, Co Meath, on July 28th, five years after meeting at a ceili at the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay. Pádraig is from Dublin and Theresa was part of a group visiting from Los Angeles, California.
Since that time, the Tulla Ceili Band has been their favourite band and was their top choice for their weding day music. Fortunately the band accepted their request. Over 150 attended the wedding and reception, including 37 from California. The night’s entertainment included plenty of set dancing, a visit by the Los Angeles “Straw Dudes,” who danced to both the Beach Boys and the Tulla, and solo dances by many of their friends, including the Tulla’s drummer Aidan Vaughan and Theresa herself.
The couple had a mini-honeymoon in Prague and are planning the real honeymoon for the future.
Congratulation Theresa and Pádraig!
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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