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).
Great food and music were the ingredients of the Christmas party in Katie Gallagher’s at Bray’s seafront in Co Wicklow, but there was even more excitement as a television crew filmed the proceedings, concentrating on two participants.
It transpired that teacher Angela Bernard has been asked by a TV company to coach a Chinese man, Liang, and a German girl, Gerlinda, to take part in series of programmes on different types of dance. It was the idea of the director Bill Tyson who had been bitten by the bug of salsa but wanted to incorporate tango, hiphop, ballroom and set dancing .
Auditions were held and dancers were allocated to teachers. Angela taught her two recruits privately and then at her general class. They were filmed and interviewed all through the process and given six weeks to come back to the auditioning panel and perform.
“We were doing the Clare Lancers at the class when they first came and the set was made up of members of Rinceóirí Chualann, the Bray set dancing club. “It was great fun”, Angela told me. “Liang and Gerlinda really entered into the spirit of it all and were delighted at how fit and supple they became. They did me proud, performing so well that the director now plans to take up set dancing himself!”
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
Glenside CD #2Atmosphere is one of the essential but sometimes elusive qualities that makes dancing such a pleasure. The musicians of the Glenside Ceili Band are not only masters at making excellent traditional music, they never fail to generate an electric buzz among their dancers. There’s no corner of Ireland they haven’t travelled to and such is their popularity they’ve been abroad on countless occasions.
Their first CD, Set Dance Music from the Glen, released in 2001, was nearly as good as attending one of their ceilis. Take the Floor, their second CD released in December features the regular members of the band, accordionist Tom Flood, drummer Aidan Flood, pianist Moyra Fraser and Johnny Duffy on banjo, plus special guest Mick Foster, half of the Foster and Allen duo. The reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas and slides are irresistibly danceable but are not arranged for sets, and there are some lovely waltzes and quicksteps with singing by Mick and Moyra. The disk is available from the Glenside Ceili Band.
Some random trawling of the Internet revealed a previously undiscovered CD with music for set dancing. Beltaine is a group of musicians from Nantes in France who have been playing for dancing since 1998. The members are Bertrand Luçon on banjo, Karine Luçon on bodhrán, Guillaume Blain on guitar and Frédérik Bouley on fiddle. Karine is a qualified ceili dance instructor who loves sets and solo dancing as well and teaches in her area. In 2003 the group released a CD called Irish Traditional Dance Music which includes music for two sets, the Connemara Jig and the Clare Lancers, plus a few extra tracks for a three-hand hornpipe, the Siege of Ennis and the Walls of Limerick. In addition, when the CD is inserted into a computer, instructions in French for all the dances are available, along with explanatory photos and videos and music notation for 29 tunes. The CD is available for purchase from the producer’s website, www.co-lelabel.com (in French), at a cost of €15. For more information take a look at the band’s website, beltaine.free.fr (also French only).
On November 8th last year Philomena McCarthy and Jean François Sarrade were married in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Leamlara, Co Cork. Celebrations afterward were in Midleton Park Hotel. Phil and Jean met in Cork through set dancing and now live in Paris. Photo by John Finbarr Crowley.
Cynthia’s ceili cake corner
New Year’s Eve was celebrated with a ceili in Cynthia Neale’s home in Hampstead, New Hampshire. In addition to the music, dance and friends, there was some good food served in the tea break. Cynthia baked three cakes for the occasion and describes them here—
“The first cake is called a Lord Baltimore Cake and is a yellow cake with lots of egg yolks. The filling is seven-minute frosting with chopped pecans, dried cherries, broken up homemade macaroons and chopped dried apricots. I covered it with frosting and there is glittering powder all over the top of the cake and white chocolate stars.
“The White Chocolate Raspberry Trifle on table is made with Italian ladyfingers dipped in Chambord raspberry liqueur and covered in melted raspberry jam. The whipped cream is mixed with melted white chocolate, layered with fresh raspberries, and topped with fresh raspberries and toasted almonds. I caught the parchment paper on fire in the broiler when I was toasting them.
“The other cake is a Scharffenberger Chocolate Cake filled with mascarpone cheese mixed with Dutch chocolate powder, powdered sugar and vanilla. I had a stencil design on the top of it and maybe you can see the silver glittery little broom sticking out of it that my husband Tim made. We did this because the theme of the ceili was Irish set and brush dance.”
When one thinks of the Algarve, the colours of the sand, sea and sunshine are prevalent. The almost transparent emerald of the ocean rolls towards the horizon mingling with the blue sky. The Algarve is a beloved gem of western Europe. When set dancers think of the Algarve they are consumed by the sounds of traditional music and feet tapping in these brilliant surroundings. The sun shone for us every day from the 4th October to the 18th the full duration of our fourth annual Fleadh Portugal festival in the Montechoro Hotel, Albufiera.
Festivalgoers started arriving from early morning on Thursday the 4th. I was among the group which arrived from Dublin airport at approximately 9.30pm. Checking in and registering at reception was swift, professional and welcoming. Even though we had a lovely meal on the plane we dined once more on a buffet dinner.
The ceili was in full swing on the tenth floor by the time I had showered and changed. The temporary timber floor we have grown accustomed to was being tested by fifteen sets as I entered. The music of the Swallow's Tail Ceili Band greeted me as I gathered myself to join in the Plain Set, my first dance of the festival. The music was super and our two mcs, Mickey Kelly and Jim Barry, were in great form. When the ceili finished at 12am we thronged down to the ballroom for social dancing with Dermot Hegarty followed by Pat Jordan and Finnian's Rainbow.
Day two began, as did every day of the festival, with Mass. Next was Mickey Kelly's workshop. Ten sets including a large quantity of beginners danced the Connemara Set. Mickey was in fine form and his encouraging words had even the first time dancer at ease. We concluded with two-hand dances including the St Bernard Waltz.
Organiser Gerry Flynn addressed the holidaymakers at his welcome meeting and briefed us on the festival's events and excursions. We were treated to wine and canapés and fresh orange juice was available for teetotallers like myself. The afternoon was spent lounging by the pool or dancing under the canopy to Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly. The evening entertainment concluded with Sharon Turley.
With a fabulous buffet dinner over, revellers gathered in the numerous venues for the social activities on offer. Mick Mackey and the session musicians were in full swing at 9pm in the pool Bar. The Copperplate Ceili Band gave us magic music for the ceili on the 10th floor and a nice selection of sets including the Claddagh and West Kerry especially for the Kerry contingent. The ballroom hosted Catherine Darcy and her band followed by the Tony Stevens Band. The Blue Room was the late nightclub area and Ally Harron and Marian Curry kept late night dancers boogying until 3am.
Jim Barry gave the set dance workshop by the pool on Saturday morning. We danced the super West Kerry and concluded with the Ruby Waltz. All nine sets were delighted with the morning's dancing. At the same time the ballroom hosted a jiving workshop with Seamus and Linda Melvin as tutors. This workshop was popular, with fifty dancers having great fun.
The afternoon events got underway at 2pm on the tenth floor with the ballroom class. I counted sixty dancers all enjoying the tuition given by Michael Beehan. Eddie Lee (keyboard player with Johnny Reidy's band) and Caitriona O'Sullivan kept us dancing by the pool until 3.30pm when Danny Webster set up and we had a fabulous ceili until 5.30pm.
At 9pm the tenth floor was abuzz with Swallow's Tail Ceili Band on stage. The lower ballroom saw Pat Jordan and Finnian's Rainbow on stage and as I mixed with the social dancers I noticed many seasoned set dancers enjoying Pat's wonderful singing. We all tripped the light fantastic to the James Peake Experience.
The dancing was interrupted as Gerry Flynn took the stage to make a special announcement. He apologised for the interruption but said he wanted to wish Dermot Hegarty a happy birthday and also to congratulate him on forty years in show business. Gerry then presented a beautiful crystal decanter to Dermot to mark these important milestones.
The Sunday morning workshop by the pool had Mickey Kelly at the helm. All twelve sets taking part were delighted with the lovely East Mayo Set, the Back-to-Back Hornpipe and Sweetheart Waltz. At 5pm we had an uplifting Mass in the open air. At the ceili tonight we saw the fantastic Copperplate on stage. Frank and Bobby Keenan arrived today and it was wonderful to have Frank on stage sharing the calling with Mickey Kelly and Jim Barry. Our sets included the East Mayo from the morning workshop.
Frank Keenan gave Monday morning's workshop on the Sliabh Fraoch Set with ten sets gathered. At the same time Seamus and Lynda Melvin gave their jive workshop. Mick Mackey hosted a superb session each day on the front lawn under the trees. The whole complex was alive almost the round of the clock.
From 2 to 4.30pm we had an outdoor ceili in the brilliant sunshine with Mr Accordion Man himself, Danny Webster. Frank Keenan included the Williamstown and we had plenty of waltzes and quicksteps for the non-set dancers. Michael Muldoon then took the stage by the pool and we boogied until dinnertime. The ceili tonight had Swallow's Tail on stage.
Tuesday morning by the pool Jim Barry danced the Borlin Jenny Reel Set and on the tenth floor Michael Beehan gave his ballroom class. Then from 2pm to 4pm Ann King gave a class in sequence dancing.
The Copperplate provided the magic music for set dancers on the tenth floor, and our sets included the Labasheeda and Ballycommon. Eddie Lee and Caitriona O'Sullivan were first on stage in the ballroom then special guest Andy Cooney, a young vibrant singer from New York, captured dancers' hearts. Heartthrob Michael Muldoon serenaded us and James Peake was last.
Wednesday morning we had twelve sets with Frank and Bobbie Keenan dancing the Fermanagh Set, a good choice for beginners. Today was our talent competition. Eddie and Caitriona began the afternoon with a Connemara Set and numerous waltzes and quicksteps before the talent show got underway. The standard was very high and I was glad not to be on the adjudicating team. The winner was Josie Canavan from Lancashire, England, originally from Co Mayo, who sang a lovely song called Lough Con. Josie told me she had written the song herself.
I was among the guests invited to a surprise sixtieth birthday party for session musician Sean Gillson. A large crowd gathered in the inside dining hall which was decorated with banners, bunting and balloons. Sean arrived totally unaware of the whole plan and was ushered in amid clapping and good wishes. We had a fun time when it came to his birthday cake. He was presented with a head of fresh cabbage and a candle on top. Someone said they heard he was found in a head of cabbage sixty years ago today. Later he was presented with a beautiful specially made birthday cake.
At the tenth floor ceili tonight with Swallow's Tail the sets included the Fermanagh from the morning workshop called by Frank Keenan. The grand draw for a cruise for two took place in the ballroom. The winners, Sarah and John Bergin, live in Coventry, England, but come originally from Carlow and Laois. I spoke briefly to this very excited couple. They have been enjoying set dancing for the past eighteen months and said this was the best holiday they have ever had. "The workshops are brilliant," Sarah said. "We have learned so much in the past week and are really looking forward to the second week of the festival."
The following morning was Thursday and those on a one-week holiday were returning home. I spoke to many of them as they were preparing to leave and all agreed that it was a superb week. The foyer in the hotel was soon busy with the new arrivals. I was delighted to see many of them were seasoned set dancers. We all had a free morning to relax or greet the new arrivals. However the mighty session under the trees on the front lawn of the hotel was in full swing and the pool area came alive with social dancing in the afternoon.
The ceili was magic with the new energy of the recent arrivals and the wholesome music of that Co Clare band, the Four Courts. I was delighted to see Chris Droney on stage with his concertina. He reminds me of my granny who also played it.
Mickey Kelly was at the helm of the second week's first workshop on Friday. All twelve sets enjoyed the Derrada Set, followed by two hand dances including the Breakaway Blues. From 2 to 3.30pm Danny Webster played for a mixed ceili, then we had a band new to this festival called Reely Jiggin. The energy and enthusiasm of these young musicians are magical. I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to them last March in Spain, and I was still in awe of their performance.
After dinner set dancers gathered for another night's dancing with the Annaly Ceili Band from Longford. I had not heard this band before although I knew the musicians from other bands. Their music was fabulous and the tempo superb.
After mass on Saturday morning we danced the Labasheeda Set in our workshop with Jim Barry. Like last week we had a large number of beginners with long-established set dancers encouraging and helping them. At the same time jive tuition was in full swing in the ballroom with Seamus and Linda Melvin. In the afternoon there was salsa dancing and then a ballroom class. By the pool there was social dancing with Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly followed by Pat Jordan.
The Copperplate Ceili Band was back on the tenth floor stage for our ceili at 9pm. The sets had started when I arrived and everyone was in fine form. The band kept us dancing until midnight, with Jim Barry as our mc. The Barry Doyle duo started the evening's events in the ballroom. Popular country and western star Larry Cunningham crooned on for about half an hour to the delight of his fans, and everyone in the ballroom thronged onto the floor to dance to his wonderful singing. Then Tony Stevens' Showband kept social dancing going in the ballroom until 1am.
On Sunday morning Mickey Kelly introduced a new set dancing teacher to us. Marian McCormack, originally from Mallow, Co Cork, but now living and working in Dublin, taught a delightful workshop on the Connemara Set for beginners. I was thrilled to see this young, enthusiastic dancer giving a workshop. Marian dances all over Dublin including Ballyboden and Bohernabreena.
The afternoon brought Danny Webster back by the pool for a ceili from 2 to 3.30pm, then Dermot Hegarty took over for social dancers until 4.30. Then everyone gave a hand to set chairs in rows for the outdoor Mass. After dinner the Four Courts were back on the 10th floor for our ceili.
Monday morning was a bit on the cloudy side and Jim Barry's workshop on the South Galway Set was relocated indoors. The afternoon brightened up and set and social dancers enjoyed Alli Harron and Marion Curry followed by Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly.
The Annaly Ceili Band played for set dancing tonight. Jim Barry included the South Galway from the morning workshop and also the Borlin Jenny Reel Set and fantastic West Kerry.
Tuesday morning we danced the beautiful Claddagh Set at Mickey Kelly's workshop. At 2pm we enjoyed social dancing, then another hour and a half of set dancing to Danny Webster's music.
Back on the tenth floor our ceili got underway at 9pm sharp with the Copperplate. Mid-way through the ceili we had a demonstration from the local Albufiera folk dancers, who have visited our festival in past years. Those who had not seen this display of dancing with their spinning top type of swinging were totally in awe of the whole performance. When they had finished their colourful and energetic dancing, a group of our dancers danced two figures of the Plain Set. The Portuguese dancers also gave a display to the social dancers in the downstairs ballroom.
On Wednesday the final day of the festival had arrived. Jim Barry taught the Williamstown Set to the ten sets gathered in the morning sunshine, and then the Killarney Waltz. The afternoon began with Reely Jiggin, then Michael Cleary and Breege Kelly joined Pat Jordan and the mighty talent show got underway. We enjoyed the afternoon sunshine and the numerous acts. The winner was a lovely singer, Jan King, who hails from Naas in Co Kildare. Jan had plenty practice singing most nights at Mick Mackey's sessions. She sang that well-known song Those Were The Days.
The Annaly Ceili Band played for the festival's final ceili and the set dancing and music was fabulous. We didn't want the night or festival to end.
What a colourful effort and display at the fancy dress parade! The winner was Mary Wright from Co Cork, a social dancer usually who has taken up set dancing in the past week thanks to Mickey Kelly's encouragement. She was dressed as Bart Simpson. We then had the prize draw for a cruise for two in 2008. This was won by Chris Droney from the Four Courts Ceili Band. I drew his prize in Chris's absence, as he and his fellow band members had returned home earlier that day. The trumpet player Johnny Carroll played for the grand finale of the night and festival.
As we bade goodbye to each other it was evident that everyone had a fabulous holiday and was planning a return to the beautiful Algarve next year. It was full of fun, laughter, music and dancing. We had superb dance tutors and a fantastic array of brilliant musicians and artists. My mantra for 2008 is "Albufiera here I come."
Joan Pollard Carew
Twenty-four hours is about all it takes to travel from Kilfenora to Heidelberg by car. After an afternoon departure from Clare, I sailed from Rosslare to Fishguard and crossed Wales and England by night, napping on the ferry and at a motorway service area. Emerging from the Channel Tunnel into a bright continental morning, I crossed France, Belgium and the Netherlands before reaching Germany. Much of this journey was on the A61 autobahn, which for many kilometres followed the tops of hills and soared high over valleys with panoramic vistas spreading out far below. The road came down to earth as I neared my destination, but as I arrived at my hotel I was pleased to see it stood in a tight little valley between high wooded hills.
It was mid-afternoon on Friday, October 5th, when I arrived, which left me plenty of time for a nap, shower and a bite to eat before dancing the night away. The occasion was the tenth annual workshop weekend hosted by the Heidelberg Set Dancers. A few years ago they had the brilliant idea of inviting the Abbey Ceili Band to play for their weekend, and they've been here every year since. For this special anniversary they outdid themselves by inviting a second band, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. It's rare to find two Irish ceili bands playing for a European set dancing weekend, so I didn't want to miss it. The club selected a lovely venue 12km north of Heidelberg, Hotel Scheid, a modest, comfortable hotel located at the edge of a vast forest.
After a few words of welcome from organiser Andrea Brouwer, the dynamic duo, Micheál and Pat, started up the box and piano and we launched into the Caledonian Set with help from Jim Monaghan. By day Jim is a mild-mannered set dancing instructor and caller, but by night the other half of his split personality takes over and he becomes the Irish incarnation of Elvis. Jim's help was especially appreciated by new dancers, and Elvis was always entertaining and amusing.
Micheál and Pat played a quick succession of nine sets to fill the night, with a break for tea and sandwiches. Some folks didn't even stop dancing then and participated in an impromptu workshop-Europeans are very keen to learn. I was amazed to see Irish-style sandwiches on offer, just like the ceilis back home, with a slice of meat or cheese on white bread. The portions were German-size though, with triangular halves instead of quarters. Andrea and her husband Henning wanted the weekend to be as Irish as possible in all its details and even requested the Irish national anthem after the last set.
The weekend programme was so full of ceilis the only time for a workshop was on Saturday morning. Jim presented the Cúchulainn Set, an easy one to get started with, and Sliabh Fraoch Set, which he rechristened the Heidelberg Set, as both names mean 'heather mountain'. He takes his set dancing seriously, and had notes prepared, not just for the workshop but also for the full programme of sets at the ceilis. Elvis, on the other hand, is a laid-back ladies' man with a velvet voice that commands silence from all within earshot. Jim took advantage of this whenever he had trouble making himself heard above the noisy dancers. Elvis sang just a line or two from one of his classic songs and suddenly the room fell silent. Jim could then get on with his teaching. There was a genuine rocket scientist in one of the demo sets and this clearly made a great impression on Jim. "Go back-to-back with the rocket scientist," was his instruction in the set. While Jim has the ability to banter non-stop for hours in English, he's also not bad in German and freely tossed out sentences and instructions understood by all.
On this summery day the hotel's beautiful setting was plain to see, thanks to all the windows bringing the trees and especially the breeze indoors. The adjacent bar and restaurant were equally bright and offered tasty meals and drinks at all hours.
Already on Saturday afternoon we were having a farewell ceili as it was our last one with Micheál and Pat. Their music was as dynamic as ever and our craic was mighty. People were quick to form sets and once I was caught with a partner and no one left to dance with us! In another set the first top couple seemed uncomfortable in that position so they changed with second tops, then with a side couple, and finally they asked to swap places with me and my partner, visiting every position before finding the one that suited them. More tea and plenty of Irish-style sandwiches were available again during the break. When the ceili finished, organisers Andrea and Henning warmly thanked the band, and then Micheál and Pat presented an Irish gift to them in thanks for their invitation to perform here.
A buffet supper was served as part of a reasonably priced meals and accommodation package. The main hotel and two adjacent buildings were filled, and overflow guests lodged in a second nearby hotel. Around three sets of dancers visited from Ireland and several joined us from Switzerland and Luxembourg.
At the Saturday night ceili we had the great pleasure of dancing to the Abbey Ceili Band. As soon as they began playing it was easy to see why they're invited back every year-the music is superb. I was in heaven as we danced four Cork-Kerry sets, the Borlin Polka, Ballyvourney, Sliabh Fraoch and West Kerry, plus assorted Clare and Galway sets.
I noticed one way in which the weekend was a bit different to Ireland. At Irish ceilis there's a constant battle for chairs between those who arrive early and latecomers. No matter how you stake your claim on a chair-you can leave your coat, shoes, bag and water bottle on it-it's always taken over by someone who arrives after you. I observed that Germans, on the other hand, have the greatest respect for chairs. They will not take one which shows signs of prior occupation and won't even sit on it while it's empty. How nice to always have a home at a ceili!
Sunday morning was another dazzling day and started off quite relaxed with a late brunch. My favourite dish was the do-it-yourself waffles. A hot waffle iron, a bowl of batter and ladle were provided, and after pouring two ladles of batter onto the iron, there emerged a hot waffle after a few minutes. After eating, folks gathered on the patio at the front of the hotel for a fiddle session with a bit of dancing.
The relaxed mood didn't last long once the Abbey began playing for the Sunday afternoon ceili. The energy and excitement of their music made every set a pleasure. The most unusual set of the day, and for that matter, the entire weekend, was Hurry the Jug, the Sliabh Luachra figure dance which I learned to love after many workshops with Timmy McCarthy. Jim added it to the programme on the request of Henning, convinced that no one would get up for it, especially as there wasn't going to be any calling. I was sceptical too but delighted when about five sets took to the floor, nearly all Heidelberg dancers, and got through it on their own. If only it would be danced like this in Ireland!
During the ceili there was a break for some solo steps, beginning with Jim's-or rather Elvis's-classic brush dance, plus some sean nós and step dancing by other participants. Jim encouraged the last few dancers to fill sets for the Cúchulainn Set by telling the nervous ones that "St Brigid will look after you." Everyone got up for the last set, the Lancers, including Micheál Sexton and one of the hotel's waiters. Afterward there were thanks to all from Andrea and Henning, and members of the Heidelberg club presented the couple with a gift in appreciation for their work organising such an enjoyable weekend.
The bands and many of the Irish visitors who weren't leaving until Monday gathered in the hotel bar for a session with excellent music by the band members, a bit of dancing, and once everyone was sufficiently relaxed, plenty of songs.
Feeling refreshed in the morning I made my final farewells and set off on the first stage of the long return journey to Ireland, though this time I'd be taking a lot longer than 24 hours to complete it!
Ahhhh. The throbbing sensation in the feet that follows a full weekend of dancing. Wouldn't trade it for just about anything.
On Friday, September 28th, my wife Susan and I and our friends Bonnie and Charlotte hopped on a plane in Dallas, Texas, and jetted off to Cape May, New Jersey, for a weekend of set dancing with the Greater Washington Ceili Club. After a detour through Atlantic City for lunch, light gambling and a stroll along the boardwalk followed by a wrong turn into Wildwood (they've got a roller-coaster!) we finally arrived in beautiful Cape May, dropped our things at the Inn of Cape May and trooped over to the Convention Center to find the ceili in full stomp.
The first evening was a whirlwind of great sets and great music. Halfway through, we danced a disastrous High-Cauled Cap, but it was fun anyway and left us tired but eager for more. The hall was absolutely packed with people, most up on the floor dancing. The music was played by Felix Dolan on piano, Bernadette Fee on fiddle, John Whelan on accordion, Brendan Dolan on flute and Jimmy Kelly on drums. Our friends were impressed, saying, "This is good-no, really good!"
We spent most of the sets on the side position since our set knowledge isn't deep but everyone was friendly and accommodating. In one case we even had someone standing outside the set calling for us while we spun and twirled.
The few sets we were familiar with were even more fun to dance since we didn't have to worry so much about what was coming next and could simply enjoy being part of the giant Spirograph of set dancing. Partway through the evening Pádraig McEneany got up on stage to call a few of the sets which was a great help for those of us who didn't know the set at all or needed a bit of prodding.
The only (very minor) thing missing from the evening was during the mid-dance break when Susan and I looked at each other and asked with smiles on our faces, "Where's the tea trolley?"
Tired and happy we retired to the Inn to get some rest before starting all over the next day.
The next morning found us once again at the convention hall ready to dance as Pádraig and his wife Róisín led us through the basic Connemara reel footwork, the Sliabh Fraoch Set and the Portmagee Miserks. They alternated between demonstrating the figures with a guinea pig set and then getting everyone out onto the floor to give it a whirl. In every case their instructions were clear and easy to follow and both walked around the hall helping people as needed.
Unfortunately Róisín had injured her foot prior to the weekend and wasn't able to dance as much as she might have but that didn't stop her from sneaking up on people and helping them when they needed it. A set dance ninja was she!
After a break to walk about town and have dinner, it was time to dance again. We were late back but were able to spend at least three hours battering and twirling the night away.
On Sunday we were off to one more workshop session with Pádraig and Róisín as they taught the East Galway and Ballycommon sets. Great fun.
After that we headed back to the Inn of Cape May, checked out and zoomed back to Philadelphia to catch the plane back to Texas.
If you can make it out to the next Cape May weekend I heartily recommend it. It was well run, had wonderful teachers and everyone there was friendly and great fun to dance with. Don't miss it. The town of Cape May is also not to be missed. I don't know how often the weather is so good but on this dance weekend the temperature in the morning was perfect for a stroll about town. The historic Victorian homes are a treat for the eyes with most painted and landscaped in brilliant colors. There seems to be an ice cream and taffy shop on every corner and the seafood is excellent.
Michael Harrison, Dallas, Texas
At the Irish World Heritage Centre, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, crowds began to gather from early in the evening for the launch of the Sean Dempsey Traditional Festival on October 26th. The first half of the ceili got underway at 8.30pm on the dot. We had the ten-piece Five Counties Ceili Band on stage to energise us with their magic music. The ballroom was packed to capacity. I counted eighteen sets on the floor with half as many more sitting down. The standard of the dancers was the best I have had the pleasure of dancing with in a long time.
Festival chairman Colman Murtagh addressed the large gathering and welcomed everyone. He said it was a privilege and an honour to welcome everyone to the twentieth Sean Dempsey Set Dance Festival. "It is a credit to Sean and all the people too numerous to mention who were involved in organising and running the festival over the years. It is a fantastic achievement to have reached this milestone."
Colman acknowledged the support of clubs and individual dancers and also the dedicated work of the adjudicators for the competitions. He expressed the gratitude of the organising committee to all the sponsors of the festival, with special thanks to Gerry Flynn who was the main sponsor again this year. Colman concluded, "If this is your first visit, it is lovely to have you with us. I'm sure you will appreciate the enthusiasm, friendliness, sense of fun and camaraderie of the people who make this festival unique."
Colman invited Mick Doyle from Galmoy, Co Kilkenny, to address the crowd. Mick said it was a privilege and an honour to be back in Manchester again this year to celebrate this festival in Sean Dempsey's honour. "Sean and myself were great friends and he always enjoyed the Slate Quarry Lancers Set. It was a great joy for me when a few years before he died he joined us in the set. Sean was a delightful character and I was blessed to have him as a friend."
Sean Dempsey's granddaughter Kelly-Anne Maguire officially opened the festival. She said, "If I had one wish it would be that my granddad was here for this weekend, and have the dance with him that I never had. Granddad used to buzz all year about this festival. I have definitely inherited his genes regarding dancing because I'd be out every night of the week if I were allowed. This festival is the best and just goes from strength to strength. I am delighted to declare the festival officially open. Enjoy yourselves everyone."
Longford's Glenside Ceili Band was welcomed on stage for the second half of the ceili. The magic music continued until 12.30am. We danced a selection of sets which included the Claddagh, North Kerry, Sliabh Luachra and West Kerry.
Saturday morning at 10am the Longfield Suite, Longfield Centre, Prestwich, was buzzing with music, dancers and crowds gathered for the senior competitions. The categories included beginners, intermediate, eight-hand and four-hand ceili, over forties, half-sets and open. Both mixed and ladies sets entered most of competitions.
The big competition of the festival was the mixed open featuring the mighty prize of a holiday for each team member in Ibiza. A hush of excitement and anticipation filled the great hall. Dancers began to show nerves as the winners were announced-the Atha Caoire dancers from Co Cork won dancing the Borlin Polka Set.
The final competition of the day was sean nós dancing, which was won by Shane Creed, Ballyvourney, Co Cork. Gerry Flynn then presented the big prize to the Atha Caoire team. We were treated to an encore and everyone was delighted with the winners and the day.
The huge hall in the Longfield Centre housed hundreds of set dancers for the second ceili of the weekend. The mighty Glenside were on stage and the floor was crowded at 8.30pm for the first set of the night, the Cashel. The selection of sets included the Ballyduff and Cúchualain.
During the changeover of the bands we had big celebrations. Kelly-Anne Maguire, Sean Dempsey's granddaughter, celebrated her sixteenth birthday with a big cake, as did Paddy Wade, Holycross, Co Tipperary. Set dancing couple Kathleen and Philip McNeill from Thurles, Co Tipperary, celebrated forty years of married bliss.
For the second half of the ceili we danced to the Five Counties. The Atha Caoire Set gave us a demonstration of their winning set, the lovely Borlin Polka. I counted 25 sets on the floor with lots of dancers sitting down. The atmosphere was magical, the dancing excellent and the music heavenly. I had the pleasure of meeting the mother and father of Alan Finn, the box player and leader of the Five Counties. They are a fabulous couple and look far too young to have a fine strapping son like Alan.
Sunday morning in the Longfield Suite the junior competitions got underway, with separate categories for dancers under ten, twelve, fifteen and eighteen years of age. The grand finale of the competitions was the brush dance. Seven young dancers took the stage and gave us an unforgettable display of dancing.
A large crowd began to gather in the Irish Heritage Centre early in the evening for the final ceili of the festival. The Five Counties Ceili Band was on stage for the first half of the night and the Glenside took over for the second. We had another mega ceili with a fabulous selection of sets including the Clare Orange and Green, Mazurka and Borlin Polka. The Galmoy Dancers gave us their demonstration of the Slate Quarry Lancers Set, led by their tutor Mick Doyle. He said he was delighted to dance this set in honour of Sean Dempsey.
Most dancers returned home on Monday but I was among a smaller group who remained for the farewell party night in the Irish World Heritage Centre that night. Sean Dempsey's son Brendan was one of the musicians and is a lovely banjo player. We had the usual craic with lilting, a bit of storytelling and sean nós dancing. The finger food was delicious and the company brilliant.
The Sean Dempsey Festival is one of the best organised and run festivals and competitions I have ever had the pleasure of being part of. If you have not been to it or if you are of a competitive nature in dancing, then mark this event as urgent in your diary for 2008.
Sean Dempsey, you can be happy that the custodians of your festival are doing a brilliant job. I will definitely be the first to book my place for next year.
Joan Pollard Carew
Killybegs, Co Donegal, came alive on Friday evening, 12th October, when St Catherine's Band entertained eager set dancers from all parts of Ireland, Europe and the USA. This was the town's inaugural set dancing event, part of the Flight of the Earls 400th anniversary commemoration.
Art Kavanagh, chamber of commerce chairman, introduced Minister Mary Coughlan and welcomed Belgian set dancers representing the Irish College, Louvain, Belgium. Mary Coughlan said she was delighted to be associated with a unique event celebrating the connection between Donegal and the Irish College, and a shared love of Irish culture in the form of dance and music. She presented the Belgian set dancers with a framed crest of Killybegs for the Irish College. The Belgian set dancers presented gifts to the Minister and organising committee.
Music in the Bay View Hotel began at a Friday session with the McElhinney family. Dancing got underway with the Emerald Ceili Band and a great night's dancing was enjoyed by a large crowd.
There were workshops on Saturday in the Tara Hotel by Edie Bradley and in the Bay View Hotel by Pat Murphy. With not a minute's dancing wasted, there was a barn dance in the Harbour Bar on Saturday from 6 to 8pm that lifted the roof with the sound of music and tapping feet.
Back in the Bay View that night, Matt Cunningham and his band played into the early hours to a large crowd. The Belgian set dancers performed the Louvain Set choreographed by Jim Keenan from Washington DC.
Sunday got off to an early start with workshops in the Bay View followed by the farewell ceili with Matt Cunningham and his band. The Danara dance group left everyone in awe with a marvellous performance of step dancing. Aidan Vaughan from Clare gave a lively rendition of a sean nós dance, and Gráinne and Claire Smyth from New Inn, Galway, entertained on the fiddles.
What a great weekend of dancing we had in Killybegs in October!
For many years a small group of us travelled to Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and many other places to similar weekends always wishing but never daring to dream that it could take place in our own town. How proud Michael Noel McGuinness would have been to see the rafters being raised in the Bay View Hotel to the sound of his beloved set dancing music. He wouldn't have believed five years to the day after his death that a festival of dancing could have been such a success in his native town.
He was always an ardent admirer of traditional music and dance but became smitten with set dancing when he collected myself and some friends from a workshop in Manorhamilton. I think this may have been the late 1980s. Sometime after this he met Connie Ryan and Betty McCoy and everything after was "mighty".
Michael was a fisherman and on his return from a fishing trip he would travel to classes with Madge O'Grady in Letterkenny and Sheila Gormley in Ballyshannon and Belleek. If there was a set dancing weekend anywhere within a hundred-mile radius he was there with his towels and spare sets of t-shirts and shoes. When doing jobs around the house he was always lilting reels and dancing steps.
Just three short months before he tragically died on board the Atlantic Dawn fishing vessel, we enjoyed our last set dancing weekend together in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, in July '02, which we thoroughly enjoyed. He thought Miltown to be the total experience in set dancing and session music.
I so enjoyed the weekend in Killybegs that I felt I must share these wonderful memories of Michael and the great pleasure he got from his dancing.
Marion McGuinness, Killybegs, Co Donegal
London was an ideal place to become acquainted with set dancing when I was living there in the nineties. I began my set dancing adventure by learning the Caledonian Set in Geoff Holland's beginners' class in Archway off the Holloway Road, and I was immediately hooked. At my first ceili I remember being mesmerised by certain dancers who appeared to fly over the floor. I was impressed by the playful way folks interacted on the floor and thought to myself, "There's more to this than just dancing!" From Geoff and other excellent teachers I learned ceili, two-hands and sets galore, many of which I saw only rarely in Ireland but in London we knew them well enough to do without a caller. I had the benefit of experienced, graceful partners who never hesitated to help out a beginner. It was a great education which turned out to change my life.
So I love an excuse to return to London for a nice bit of dancing and there's none better than Return to Camden Town, a ten-day festival of music and dance based at the London Irish Centre. This is where I did most of my dancing in those days and it was great to go back there on Saturday and Sunday, October 20 and 21, for the opening weekend of the festival. I showed up bright and early on Saturday morning for the workshop with Patrick O'Dea, another former Londoner on a return visit. I attended occasional classes taught by him in my early dancing days when he was a young teenager. The Irish Centre's McNamara Hall was full of his old friends and he gave an unrestrained exchange of hugs and kisses when each one arrived.
Patrick maximised the dancing at the workshop. There were no formal demonstrations; he just described the moves and showed the more complicated parts on his own or with a couple or two. We practiced with Patrick counting the bars and then danced the full figure once or twice to music. If he spotted us having trouble, he repeated the explanation with more practice, otherwise we were onto the next figure. We began with the Clashmore followed by the Limerick Orange and Green, which when danced back-to-back showed a few similarities. The highlight of the day was the Connemara Jig danced in its original full length (not with some of the figures halved as is common now) to some spine-chillingly gorgeous music by P J Hernon. This is exactly how we used to dance it in London many years ago, and presumably they still do! P J played solo melodeon for two cassette tapes of set dancing music recorded back in the nineties, Buail Cois Air and Buail Cois Eile Air. They're largely forgotten today as teachers no longer use cassettes and the recordings were never released on CD. This is unfortunate as it's some of best music you could ever dance to! Patrick continued with the Sliabh Fraoch and had us dance the Ballyvourney Jig to close the afternoon.
The special guest ceili band of the weekend was the Abbey all the way from Cork, and mc Terry O'Donnell made sure we had a few Cork and Kerry sets such as the Ballyvourney Reel and Jig and the West Kerry. The hall was filled with as many as fifteen sets, crowded but still comfortable. Patrick was encouraged out onto the floor for a solo dance demonstration which attracted everyone's rapt attention. Ger Murphy and Andy O'Connell (box and fiddle) came out onto the floor beside him to play without amplification. During the final Plain Set, I noted with interest that the band played the ever-popular Tamlin Reel for the entire duration of the fourth figure, changing key in the middle and returning to the original key to finish. Exciting!
Another workshop began the dancing on Sunday morning when Patrick taught the Skibbereen Set, the Back-to-Back Hornpipe and the Peeler and the Goat. The Abbey Ceili Band was back in the afternoon for more dance excitement and another full house. A host of heavenly partners kept me fully occupied for every set-how is it that all the ladies dance so beautifully here? The McNamara Hall's air conditioning was remarkably effective at keeping me cool and dry, undoubtedly reducing the number of shirts soaked during the ceili and cutting down on loads of laundry across London. Patrick, Ger and Andy came to the middle of the floor again for another solo dance, and once again there was a thrilling Plain Set to finish.
Of course the Return to Camden Town festival is more than just set dancing. There was a constant session in the centre's foyer and sold-out concerts at other times, so there's plenty to occupy dancers between ceilis. And this was only the first weekend with just as much to come in the second. However I had to say a fond farewell to Camden Town and make my return to Kilfenora.
Who has never thought of spending the autumn days in Canada when Mother Nature wears all her finery? Five hours or so after leaving Belfast International Airport at the end of September, my dreams became true while flying over endless hectares of emerald, ruby and gold forests, landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I then made my way to the northwest shore of Cape Breton Island where I wished to immerse myself in its culture for two months. I was fortunate to trade my daily view of Tory Island from Falcarragh Bay, Co Donegal, for a view of the illuminations of Prince Edward Island I get on a clear night from St George's Bay in Long Point, Inverness County, where Melissa Emmons lives. Passionate pianist and fiddler, regular accompanist to Northside fiddler Brenda Stubbert, she had been longing to play Irish reels and highlands in situ which, vice versa, satisfied my appetite for learning Scottish marches and strathspeys. For Nova Scotia is the Latin name for New Scotland: although the first settlers were French in the eightheenth century, it became a land of welcome for thousands of Scots dramatically forced to emigrate during the Highland Clearances between 1800 and 1850. Hence a strong heritage of Scottish Gaelic culture: here I was, staying in the heart of a Gaeltacht again, on the Ceilidh Trail, about ten minutes' drive from the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, half an hour from West Mabou Hall, over an hour from the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts in St Anns and just on time for the 11th Celtic Colours International Festival. The programme of cultural festivities offered an impressive variety of daily educational and community events and three, four or more evening concerts followed by a late music performance gathering in the Festival Club of the Gaelic College from 11pm til 3am! During nine vibrant days and nights, walking on history trails all around the flamboyant island, one could take part in workshops, lectures, exhibitions, visual arts, sessions, an entertaining pancake breakfast or a chowder dinner, and thus discover more about Celtic calligraphy, knot making, wood carving, dyeing, spinning, weaving, quilting, painting, Gaelic singing, fiddling, piping, guitar and piano playing, step dancing, square dancing-as well as new friends making. Sleep would have to be relegated to the long crispy cold winter nights.
On Friday the 5th of October, I certainly didn't want to miss the opening concert of the festival in Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, near the Canso Causeway: the legendary Chieftains had the place of honour beside other Cape Breton guests. They were joined by an explosive trio, Irish step dancer Cara Butler and Ottawa River Valley brothers Jon and Nathan Pilatzke, who put me in a high mood to attend a step dance workshop scheduled the next day in the Education Centre, Whycocomagh. This town, also spelt We'koqma'q, located on the west end of the Bras d'Or Lakes is one of the bastions of the first Indians inhabiting the island, the Mi'kmaq community. Their culture still has a remarkable influence on the Cape Breton heritage, also tinted by Acadian, French, English, Scottish and Irish traditions.
The two-hour workshop was taking place in the music classroom of the school, and it was nice to see the staff lines on the white board with bits and pieces of the last melody studied during the week. Whereas fifteen dancers had been at the morning class, we were only four ladies in the afternoon-I later discovered that one of them was from Donegal town! Due to our small number each of us got very particular attention from young local instructor Stephanie MacDonald. Having already acquired a lot of know-how after teaching for the last six Celtic Colours since she was sixteen, she patiently made sure that we would all get the steps right, close to the floor, at our own pace. We got to learn half a dozen steps for a strathspey. Stephanie detailed four other variations for a reel, then finished with jig steps we could use in a square set. All the steps were demonstrated to a recording of Cape Breton fiddler Wendy MacIsaac, one of the festival's artists in residence who had joined Chieftains piper Paddy Moloney on stage the night before.
At the end of the workshop I was asked to play a tune on the fiddle by organiser Burton MacIntyre, retired school vice principal and one of the directors of the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association since its foundation in 1973. Burton kindly invited me for tea in his charming traditional timber house. A majestic piano with beautifully sculpted legs dominated the living room. Burton's brother gave it life and we danced at home. I got a second invitation to a Celtic Colours pot luck supper in the local Cameron Hall on condition that I would entertain the participants for a little while along with a talented young fiddler, Rachel Davis. What a privilege! Filled with joy by these unexpected treats I headed for Mabou trying to unwind on the bendy mountain road, looking forward to my first experience of Cape Breton square dancing-encouraged by Burton's third invitation for a dance there.
There's been dancing in West Mabou Community Hall every Saturday night over the last eighteen years. Providing alcohol-free drinks and tasty home-baked goodies, it became a family square dance event to encourage the youth to keep up the dancing tradition. Off the beaten track on the road to the Beach Provincial Park, the place was already packed due to numerous Celtic Colours visitors when I arrived long before 10pm. On the empty stage I spotted an old upright piano and started imagining its powerful authentic acoustic tone we seldom get to hear in Ireland. But I hid my disappointment as I saw accompanist Jackie Dunn from Antigonish County bring her own keyboard to accompany fiddler Glenn Graham from Judique, nephew of well-known Mabou fiddler and composer Kinnon Beaton. There are no equivalents of Irish ceili bands in Cape Breton: often a solo fiddle and piano are sufficient to play at a dance. This solo tradition gives dance fiddlers an amazing confidence, strength and drive like no-one else anywhere-a pity though their unique warm fiddle tone tends to get lost when amplified through pick-up microphones nowadays.
When the music began several couples quickly filled up the dance floor. I first sat down and watched with interest, quite puzzled that one group was already dancing the first figure whereas the circle next to them was late to gather and start. I soon noticed that not all the couples would move at the same pace, dancing at home, leading around or coming back in a circle in their own time, even furtively breaking away at the end. When step dancer Burton invited me for the next set I took the precaution of warning him I didn't know which dance it would be; to my surprise, he replied that it was the same set again. In fact, unlike Irish set dancing, only the set peculiar to a community will be danced all night. So I managed more or less to go through the two jig figures and the third reel figure of the West Mabou Set, not without showing signs of confusion, my feet juggling on and off beats, sometimes doing a standstill waiting for other couples to be finished, other times trotting over to catch up to others.
During another identically confusing set, not being too sure on which part or bar of the music the figure had started, my Cartesian mind was trying to clarify when the figure would finish. "When the dancers are tired!" answered my guardian angel, my very helpful neighbour and new dance partner. Indeed while we were still dancing one couple stopped and started clapping until they were joined by others loud enough to let the musicians know and stop. I only managed to appreciate the quality swing in the music towards the end of the night. After the sixth same set, the duo played a few hopping strathspeys for a change and local step dancers, young or older, took turns until both excitement and tempo increased in a finale of lively reels and sophisticated solos.
The following Friday, October 12th, Celtic Colours held a two-hour square dance afternoon workshop in Big Pond, on the east side of the island. Not losing heart after my epic square dance baptism, I left the Canso Causeway in the morning; took the Fleur-de-Lis Trail leading to one of the two French historic regions of the island; passed through one of North America's oldest European settlements dating back to 1650, the pretty town of St Peter's; crossed Chapel Island, an important pilgrimage site for the First Nations; continued up and down picturesque green farmlands. Then all of a sudden, I held my breath for one second of eternity in front of the most spectacular sweeping view of Irish Cove, the lakes and surrounding hills.
After this long journey full of twists and turns through time I eventually reached my final destination, slightly later than planned. One full set was already in action on the dance floor when I entered St Mary's Parish Hall, a small venue with a terrace overlooking the beautiful forested shore of the biggest salt water lake in the world, the pride of locals, who admit in an aside it is linked by narrow channels to the Atlantic Ocean! Straight away I felt a homey atmosphere. In one corner, the wooden stove was crackling; opposite, tea and cakes were displayed on a welcoming table; in the air live fiddle music was swirling. Waiting for the next opportunity to dance, I was listening to local instructor Melvin White's explanations of the "go right hand" move (chain) in the first jig figure when a couple came in. As they were apologising for being late, my attention was attracted by their quite familiar accent: what a lovely surprise to meet West Cork set dancers Annie and Bert Moran, just back from Newfoundland and on their way to give a workshop on Prince Edward Island!
All of us finally got to join the circle and repeat the three figures a few times, first to Cape Breton jigs like The Squirrel in the Tree, then to reels and more reels, some being Scottish or Irish like Miss MacLeod's or Devil's Dream. What the community here calls the Scottish Square Dance is the only set danced around the Sydney area, thus the only set we were taught through the afternoon. By that time, I was invited for a hearty seafood supper by my dance partner and put up for the night by another kind dancer. She happened to be the sister of musician and Celtic music promoter Sheldon MacInnes, author of A Journey in Celtic Music, Cape Breton Style and a new biography on Cape Breton fiddle master Buddy MacMaster, launched a few days before in his home town Judique. Both books were offered to me as an early Christmas present by my praiseworthy hostess, confirming Cape Bretoners' well-known generosity and hospitality.
The same evening, as part of the festival, a welcome concert in Big Pond was organised across the road in the Fire Hall Community Centre. Ironically the old fire hall burnt down and a new one was built in 2002, with the main difference that it was acoustically designed to host musical and dancing events. A dazzling blend of musicians were featured, amongst them Canadian multi-talented guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo player J P Cormier; a dynamic Québécois band from Montréal, Genticorum; and fiddler Dwayne Côté from Richmond County, who conveys a unique classical twist in his music. As my feet kept dancing on the spot, I apologised to the lady seated beside me for the inconvenience. In no means disturbed by my uncontrolled wild battering she whispered: "I wish I could do the same. You should go on stage!" I was lucky she was actually the supportive mother of pianist Mario Colosimo from Dominion who was accompanying Dwayne, along with guitarist Kenny Hutchins. No wonder she could name almost every tune they were performing!
As soon as the concert was over, chairs were piled up to clear the floor for a square dance-I wished the architect would have considered putting in a wooden dance floor, even a removable one, rather than dancing on the cement one. The same Cape Breton trio came back shortly and started playing for no more than twenty dancers while technicians were still taking lights and sound gear off the stage! Although the concert was sold out, I was surprised that very few in the audience stayed on for the ceilidh. Only two sets-one sometimes had five couples in it!-danced the same Scottish set all night with the same fun, interspersed by delightful waltzes. Once upon a time volunteer firemen had to refuse keen dancers at the door of the overflowing old hall, where round and square dances would attract the whole parish. Nowadays young ones in Big Pond don't care much for polkas or sets, unfortunately.
On Saturday October 27th I returned to the ceilidh in West Mabou Hall where renowned pianist Mac Morin was accompanying Antigonish fiddler Dara Smith. Different musicians are featured every week to vary the pleasure of listeners and dancers. Mac comes from a family of step dancers in Troy, next town to Long Point, and is a dancer himself. He toured with Natalie MacMaster for two years and released his first self-titled CD in 2003. I arrived early and the place was quiet after Celtic Colours' resounding success - the festival was named Event of the Year by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. A few locals were discussing the beautiful colours of fall this year when Mac Morin jumped on stage and started dismantling the piano - the same one which had stayed silent on my first visit. Both top lid and front panel were vigorously taken off, leaving its soundboard, frame and 88 strings exposed and myself anxious. Content, Mac sat down on a stool and a warm-up piano solo rose through the hall. I would get to hear its tone tonight, twice as loud as ever! Fiddle bow and piano hammers started a percussive jig together, followed by another dozen all in the same key, as is the habit here. Three couples opened the fancy Halloween dress ball, joined in by another and another one, and soon seven couples were dancing in the same set together: no doubt that welcoming is one of the Cape Bretoner's best qualities. Seven West Mabou Sets punctuated by a lovely waltz filled the night with the same enjoyment and eight chances to socialize. If the Cape Breton dancing tradition looks less varied to Irish or French eyes it is still more flexible and makes a popular folk art form accessible to anyone, expert or neophyte, local or visitor. Many dance hall and house session doors were opened to me during my stay: I have the greatest respect for such an interactive living culture.
I'm not sure what it's like in Carryduff at other times of the year, but it can get pretty spooky there at the end of October. That's when the local set dancing club holds their annual workshop weekend in St Joseph's Hall, a large and comfortable hall conveniently located between a church and hotel in this Belfast suburb about six miles south of the city centre. This year the fun began on Friday, 26 October, when I arrived in Carryduff after travelling from Kilfenora via an overnight stop in Co Armagh. Autumn was in the air, the sky and especially the trees, which were decorated in their finest colours.
Since my last visit, St Joseph's Hall had received a coat of paint which nicely lightened the interior, but the club did their best to counteract this. With cobwebs, skeletons, spiders, candles, pumpkins, balloons and more, they succeeded in making it feel like we were having a party in a crypt. When the lights dimmed after a few sets, the heavy gloom completed the ghostly atmosphere. I needed a torch to look at my partners!
Nevertheless from the very first set there was fun in the air and lively music all around us, thanks to caller Joe Farrell and the popular Copperplate Ceili Band. Joe has a lovely repertoire of sets, both commonplace and rare, from the Fermanagh and Williamstown sets to the Cashel and final Plain sets on Friday night. Joe has as much fun calling the sets as we do dancing them, especially as he dances most of them himself. Thanks to his help people were eager to get up for every set. The Copperplate's music was loved by all, and their version of the Tamlin Reel in the last set had a mysterious air about it-entirely appropriate for Halloween!
The bright lights were on in the hall on Saturday morning and afternoon so we could engage in the serious business of enjoying Pat Murphy's workshop without getting a fright. There was a delightful selection of sets, beginning with the South Kerry. Pat had picked up a new set a couple of weeks earlier in Killybegs, Co Donegal, where Jim Keenan taught the Flight of the Earls Set which he composed for this year's 400th anniversary of that event. The first figure keeps everyone moving with gents and ladies going their separate ways and meeting in a Christmas with an unusual handhold. Pat said the fourth and final figure is the longest hornpipe in set dancing. Our final set was the Tory Island Set from Co Donegal, which despite its northern origins is a lot like a set from Cork or Kerry.
Carryduff's serious dedication to Halloween peaked at the Saturday night ceili. The décor and low-lighting were unchanged, but this time many of the dancers came in disguises that were scary, funny, fancy, pretty or just plain silly. They danced the whole night away like this, some with faces so well hidden that the mystery of their identity took a while to solve. Playing for us were Colin McGill and James Hogan, a new two-piece band who lifted the occasion with their bright and spirited music, and Joe Farrell and Pat Murphy called a new selection of interesting sets. In the break there was a sumptuous tea served in an adjacent room via an orderly one-way system; the queue stretched across the hall. Following a door prize draw and raffle, the fancy-dressers were summoned to the centre of the hall. Under full scrutiny by those of us in ordinary clothes, including two anonymous judges, a pair of twin cave girls was awarded a pair of fruit baskets for their entertaining costumes. Then it was back to the dancing and the last two sets of the night. No national anthems were played here all weekend, so Colin and James blasted an extra batch of reels instead-one set amused themselves with the Clare Orange and Green.
After an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, thanks to the change to winter time, Pat Murphy devoted the morning to some two-hand dances, some of which were new to us all, including some ballroom-style waltzes and quicksteps. In his careful teaching he made the complicated moves easy to dance and demonstrated a genuine passion for this form of dancing.
With the scariest part of the weekend safely past us I could just enjoy the final ceili on Sunday afternoon for the sheer joy of dancing. The Copperplate was back and among the sets called by Joe Farrell were the Kilfenora, Caledonian and Borlin Polka, which on its own was exciting enough to make my trip up north worthwhile.
That evening the club arranged a pub session in the city for those of us who didn't have to rush home, thanks to the southern bank holiday. The session was in a private upstairs room and on arrival I was amazed to find close to fifty people gathered. There were sets, beautiful songs and plenty of relaxed chat. The Carryduff dancers know how to add a bit of Halloween fun and spice up a good weekend, but I'd say they're just as much fun the rest of the year too.
The word for November in Irish and Scots Gaelic is Samhain. It also names a Celtic festival. According to the ancients, this holiday divided the year into two seasons, winter and summer, the time in which the Celtic New Year and winter begin together.
Growing up in Ireland of the fifties, I was gifted with grandfather's stories of ancient times.
"The veil between the worlds of matter and spirit was lifted at this time of year," he told me. "Food offerings were left on doorsteps for the wandering dead. Candles in windows were lit to help guide the spirits of ancestors, and chairs were set around the hearth for the unseen guest."
Every year on October 31st I invite my Irish dance students and friends to a celebratory dinner party. They appear, not in Halloween costumes, but in attire depicting characters from Celtic history or mythology.
The ghosts this year delivered words of wisdom for our world.
Daniel O'Connell, holding his box labeled "Rent one penny," took us back to that era of Catholic emancipation in Ireland-a stark contrast between the arrival of the Celtic Tiger, and our humble beginnings as a nation.
Countess Markowitz reminded us of the nobility of nineteenth century women soldiers. What angered her most when she was jailed for her involvement in Ireland's fight for independence was that her life was spared because of her sex.
In her stylish black outfit and reserved manner, Lady Gregory announced that she had a message from her friend and colleague, Séan O'Casey. What the playwright wanted to tell the living, she said, is that "the world is in a state of chassis." We agreed with thunderous applause.
Less dignified, though no less famous, Molly Malone with her basket of fish left no doubt that "her ghost still wheels her barrow through streets broad and narrow."
Molly's fish song was followed by the goddess Muirne's account of Fionn MacComhall eating the Salmon of Knowledge. This evoked the goddess Sedna. Cold but beautiful in frosty white layers of winter, this protector of sea life in the north and Artic seas, delivered a reminder that on the ice floes off Canada and elsewhere, thousands of baby seals are being cruelly clubbed and killed.
Another animal protector, the goddess Epona, made her way to our gathering. Was it Ireland's love affair with horses or the increasing number of wild horses being slaughtered that inspired her arrival?
We need love. This is the message Camma delivered. Alluring in death as she was in life, this goddess of Galicia, held our undivided attention as she dramatically spun an intriguing tale of everlasting love and devotion.
Camma's story evoked a god. Decked out in horns and hooves, Pan played reels and jigs on a silver flute. The lively music aroused sleeping cats, who danced with glee, then tipped their hats.
When the Peeler and the Goat took the floor, for a dance of the same name, we learned the origins of the word "peeler". Apparently, Sir Robert Peel, who later went on to become British Prime Minister, got his start organizing local police forces throughout England and Ireland. Derived from his surname, peeler was a common nineteenth century nickname for the British police officers patrolling the Irish countryside. In the dance, the peeler appears to wrestle with the Irish goat in an attempt to arrest her.
According to folklore, the "wee folk" became active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans on Samhain. Any crops still in the field were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. To some extent, this belief still held in Ireland of the fifties. My mother discouraged us from eating blackberries still hanging on after November 1st. "The púca might have spat on them," she warned.
As a small child, I wondered what this shape shifter might look like if we were to cross paths in the back garden or behind the reek of turf. The dog, the gander or the donkey would be suspect if they happened to be acting in a disagreeable manner around this time of year. And next-door's goat, in spite of barbed wire over the stonewall and a spancel on two of his hooves, would somehow find his way into our well field.
"The Lord between us and all harm, there's something unnatural about that lad," my mother would say, shaking her head. According to the research done by our púca Peggy Logan, this shape shifter has of late become famous in Hollywood. In the classic Jimmy Stewart film Harvey the title character is a púca in the form of a tall human-shaped rabbit.
After all the ghosts faded to that space beyond the veil, we finished off dinner with the traditional barm brack. Irish language student, Terence McCormick, may tie the knot before the year is out-it was he who found the ring. The coin made its way to the snowy pocket of the goddess Sedna (Ellen Schecter), already rich in talent as a gifted writer.
As the earth goddess and organizer of this Celtic New Year gathering, I speculated with my guests that the ancients would have reminded us that human life parallels the changing of the seasons. For through death in winter, we pass on to new life in spring.
At the finale we lit candles and created a circle of light. After speaking the names of friends and loved ones who died during the year, we sang the Scottish song Old Lang Syne, danced Rince Mór na Tine (The Bonfire Dance) and wished each other a happy Celtic New Year.
Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey
Sitting here in Dublin airport waiting for my flight back to Germany I go slowly back through the photos which I have taken during the past weekend. And what a weekend it was! It fulfilled an addicted set dancer's expectations totally. Galway is back!
Almost ten years after the final Galway International Set Dancing Festival, one of the biggest events of the year at that time, Tony Ryan, a native Galwegian and set dance teacher decided to hold a set dance weekend from the 9th to the 11th of November in the Clybaun Hotel in Galway City. He invited Pat Murphy and Séamus Ó Méalóid, well known as the best and most traditional set dance teachers in Ireland, to hold the workshops during the weekend. These three gentlemen are unique and once I heard they were teaching, my flight was booked almost a year in advance.
The weekend kicked off with a ceili on Friday night played by the Sean Norman Ceili Band. Quickly a big number of sets gathered on the floor and it was clear to everybody that the weekend would be well attended by dancers from Galway and all over Ireland as well as from the continent and even further away.
I hardly could wait for the following morning to see Séamus, Pat and Tony on stage! And there they were, the 'triumvirate' side by side. What a pleasure to listen to Tony introducing his two guests and good friends, and to see the three gentlemen in good form and humour. They 'passed the ball' from one to another, laughing and joking, giving all attendees a brilliant time. In a gentle, friendly way, Tony explained that the three had decided to let Séamus Ó Méalóid start the morning's workshop with the beautiful Aran Set!
Soon there were almost as many sets on the floor as during the ceili. With Séamus's help and great humour we all got through this set with enthusiasm, even the tricky parts. After a tea break served by the friendly hotel staff, it was Tony's turn. He introduced dancers to the Roscahill Set, a beautiful lively local polka-jig-polka set from the village of Roscahill, just a few miles away from Galway City on the gateway to the exciting landscape of Connemara. It was a great pleasure to dance these sets during workshops even though they are rarely danced during ceilis!
Finally it became the turn of dance master Pat Murphy. He decided to teach the Flight of the Earls Set. It was composed by dance teacher Jim Keenan in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Flight of the Earls and recently launched in Ireland at the workshop weekend in Killybegs, Co Donegal. Under Pat's perfect, secure guidance everybody enjoyed the 'newcomer' without any problem!
After the lunch break Tony decided to change over to a ceili dance, the Three Tunes. The show set Tony put together were brilliant dancers, well experienced in the different ceili steps. They performed this dance so perfectly they were ready to win any competition. What a pleasure to watch these dancers!
Throughout the weekend Tony Ryan as the organiser, teacher and dancer, supported by good helping friends, looked after the well being of every single participant. Especially during the workshops he continuously made sure that anybody who wanted to dance would find a place in a set, even if they came in late. If there was no place left he arranged new sets. Everybody got the chance to dance the lovely sets chosen by the three gentlemen of the weekend!
At the Saturday night ceili with the music of Matt Cunningham, a huge number of people danced most of the common sets as well as those taught during the workshops. Pat, Seamus and Tony called with great humour and spirit.
After the ceili many dancers gathered in the hotel lobby, moving chairs together for a mighty late night session. So many brilliant singers and musicians were present, very willing to give a sample of their wonderful talent. Everybody joined in the beautiful songs. Séamus Ó Méalóid and John Joe Geraghty gave a most brilliant performance in their native Irish language which brought a real high to the audience!
Both Saturday and Sunday mornings started with an unusual workshop: Yoga teacher Ken Ryan, Tony's son, taught one hour of light yoga before the set dance workshops started. From my own experience this is a relaxing preparation for dancing and should be practised more often as a great help to stretch and soften every muscle in our bodies and as a helpful support to any energetic dancing!
Seamus started Sunday morning's workshop teaching the beautiful Frères Nantais (Connemara Jig Set), definitely one of my personal favourites. Pat Murphy finished the morning's dancing with the Inis Oìrr Set, a beauty from the Aran island out in Galway Bay.
The song Galway Bay sung by Tony Ryan and accompanied by a brilliant lady singer from Dublin brought the workshop part of the weekend to an emotional end. Tony promised to continue organising this weekend for the coming years. Everybody left the floor to get ready for the afternoon ceili with the band Carousel. They played brilliant music, lively, fast and energetic. Dancers could not miss one beat!
The weekend was filled with caring friendliness and lots of traditional dancing. We got the chance to make new friends and share lots of laughter with old friends. I can hardly wait for next year's Galway weekend with the three gentlemen carrying their love and dedication for the tradition of Irish set dancing in their hearts!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
For many years now, Paddy Hannon has conducted set dancing classes at the Ryston (formerly Irish Ropes) Social Club in Newbridge, Co Kildare. Paddy's classes continue throughout the year (no summer break) commencing every Wednesday evening at 8.30pm. Even the rebuilding of the social club's premises in the recent past did not interrupt the continuity of Paddy's classes. The adjacent gymnasium, more noted as the home of Ryston Boxing Club, became the venue for the set dancers during the social club's structural transformation.
With Halloween falling on a Wednesday this year an inspired fancy-dress night marked the first Newbridge set dancing party since the return to the new venue. The night was very well supported by neighbouring classes such as Naas, Valleymount and Kilcullen. The fare was excellent, the dancing was mighty and there were many eye-catching costumes 'reeling' through the Plain, Kilfenora, Caledonian, etc.
Michael Gannon, Newbridge, Co Kildare
Regular Birmingham weekends
It takes lot for me to get pen to paper but I do feel I have to say a very sincere thank-you to John and Sharon Holian for putting Birmingham in the set dancing diary by organising regular workshop weekends. Having lost so many over the years, Priddy, Castleton, Warwick and Slough to name a few, it's great to have a couple of dates in England at a relatively central venue that don't involve excessive amounts of travelling, especially by air or sea-tho' it would take much more than distance to keep me away from Ballyvourney or Castletown!
I've just returned from the 4th October weekend in Birmingham where I had a great time. Pat Murphy gave excellent workshops; an added bonus was Bristol dance teacher Vicky Salway in some demonstration sets-sheer joy to watch. Despite last minute changes in the band line-up due to illness, Ivy Leaf Ceili Band delivered some lovely lively music which kept the feet off the ground at the Saturday night ceili. Before the Sunday afternoon ceili we all enjoyed traditional Irish hospitality by way of an ample and very welcome buffet lunch. Thus many thanks to all involved in organising such a lovely weekend and one from which so many people benefit since all net proceeds go to local charities.
I'm now looking forward to Timmy McCarthy's weekend in May; meanwhile it's off to Ballyvourney for a Timmy fix!
Beryl Brown, Sheffield, England
Hello to Oisín Park
Having danced for years at house dances, I never got to learn it from the teachers until I joined the Oisín Park dancers in Killeshin, Co Laois. Peter O'Neill is the teacher and he is brilliant, so could you say hello to Oisín Park sometime, not forgetting the dancers who made me feel very welcome. It's a new lease of life for me. Joan Pollard Carew is great too. Keep up the good work and keep dancing.
John Ryan, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny
Us set dancers don't ask for much-just give us good music, a cup of tea, fresh air and a clean dust-free floor. But Good Lord, how our two last wants have failed us! Some halls that we are expected to pay money to dance in have not been cleaned from one year to another. Windows in some cases are covered up and stuck with paint, and some the committee won't open. They get very hard after lots of requests to open a door. I wonder if those people ever set dance and feel what it's like to be smothered and coughing with dust, having to go outside for a breath of fresh air between sets, at the end of the night looking down at a pair of feet black from dust. We cannot see our lungs but we feel the dust for weeks after. It is no wonder how many of us use inhalers. So dancers, it's time to talk up, complain to the committee and look forward to a clean environment to dance in for '08. It's up to us!
Patricia Finn, Rathconrath, Co Westmeath
To all our ceili friendsDear Bill,
We would like to thank all our friends for their kindness and support during our recent bereavement. We received hundreds of cards from all over Ireland and the UK. Countless Masses were also offered for our intentions. We firmly believe that this wonderful support, together with that of our families, helped us to cope with the loss of our son Michael.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our friends a very happy and healthy 2008!
Tom and Marie Flood, Glen, Co Longford
Tom plays accordion with the Glenside Ceili Band.
A lot to gain from one anotherDear Mr. Lynch,
I contacted you at the end of August to seek information about Irish dancing activities in Japan. My trip was between October 2nd-11th. Thank you so much for your rapid reply.
I emailed the Kyoto dancer you suggested, Tamiko Oyama, who immediately sent my request to attend a set dance session on to her Tokyo friends. I was so sorry not to be able to meet her, but I hope to keep in touch.
Just thought you should know that these friends were wonderful and terrific set dancers! Many attended Willie Clancy Summer School and other workshops in Ireland. I was able to attend one session in Tokyo where they treated me like royalty. I enjoyed meeting each and every one of them and plan to keep in contact with their coordinator. They seemed to enjoy the well-wishes and gifts from the Portland Ceili Society, from Hanz Araki, a local and international musician whom they all seemed to know, and from me. I was certainly compensated with their hospitality.
When I got home, immediately tailgating my experience, there was a request from another Japanese dancer from Tokyo, Yasuko Teramachi. She came down from Vancouver, British Columbia, to meet me because her friend, the Tokyo Comhaltas coordinator Naomi Iizuka, told her about me! She turned out to be a set and step dancer. While she was here to participate in a local feis (at which she won several medals), she also was able to attend a set dance session with my Portland friends.
Since then, a local step dance academy sent their recent spring recital DVD and information about their school to Japan, all in a gesture of friendship and common interest. We have so many forms of Irish dance and have a lot to gain from one another, eh?
Thank you for making this happen for me and my Portland Irish dancing friends. I'm sure my non-dancing Japanese hosts still do not comprehend how important this night in Tokyo was for me, but they made it a reality too. I will always be beholden.
With much appreciation,
Patti McCallig Bates, Portland, Oregon
Heidelberg's 10th anniversaryDear Bill,
We would like to take the opportunity to thank everybody who made the trip to Heidelberg. This year was our tenth set dancing weekend and therefore we decided to move one step ahead. Not only did we move to a new venue (brighter and friendlier) but we took the risk of getting two bands over, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh and the Abbey Ceili Band. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and hope that everybody else did. As the weekend was a great success we might try repeating it next year-so watch Set Dancing News for our advert.
Andrea and Henning Brouwer, Heidelberg Irish Set Dancers, Germany
So-called 'good dancers'Hello Bill,
I must congratulate you on your magazine. It is full of information on dancing, etc.
I would like to bring to your attention that a lot of ceili dancers, mainly women I think, are sick of sets being booked before the ceilis. There is no room for the new dancer on the scene. Also I went to a ceili in Kerry recently where people were staying in the same sets, not allowing other dancers into their set. It is sad when people get so confident that they don't want the poor learner anywhere near them. Surely this is not a nice way to treat people. I have had a lot of comments on this from learners who stay at home because they are intimidated by so-called 'good dancers'.
Teresa Lenihan, Newcastlewest, Co Limerick
Almost hear the music and funHello!
I live in the States and just want to tell you I enjoy looking at your set dancing pictures [available on the website www.setdancingnews.net]. One can almost hear the music and fun looking at the pictures. Thank you for the work you do. I've friends over there (John and Davy Griffin, from Cordal, Co Kerry) I am always looking for. I have seen them many times in the pictures.
Keep up the great work!!
Kathleen Tarrant, USA
PS Hope you never get stepped on! :) Take care.
Diamond Coast ceiliDear Bill,
I would like to thank everyone that came to the ceili I held in the Diamond Coast Hotel, Enniscrone, Co Sligo, on October 31st, especially the people who travelled long journeys and everyone who bought tickets for the raffle for cancer support. Congratulations to Sean and Greta Lynott who won the two tickets for Fleadh Ibiza '08 and I would like to thank Enjoy Travel for giving us the tickets. I have organised for the 7th, 8th and 9th of November '08 to run a set dancing workshop in the same venue and for the same cause.
Thanking you, Bill,
Oliver Fleming, Cloontia, Bonniconlon, 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).
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357