last updated 18 August 2008
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 45

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

Rocking Letterkenny

The severe gale warnings predicted for the Hills of Donegal Set Dancing Weekend, 7–9 March, weren’t even enough to keep me from travelling to Letterkenny for this outstanding festival, as my Scottish set dancing friends and I set off early on Friday morning. Upon our arrival I was surprised to be greeted so early in the day by a few committee members who gave us the famous homes of Donegal fáilte in Gaeilge, which made us feel extremely welcome and very much at home throughout the weekend.

That evening the schedule kicked off with a jiving workshop by Gráinne Gallagher and Vincent McNellis who kindly stepped in at the last minute after a late cancellation by the original instructor. They also conducted the second workshop on the Saturday afternoon, both which were well attended. Friday night’s first ceili featured brilliant music from the Swallow’s Tail and the mc for the weekend was Gerard Butler, who conducted the weekend’s events thoroughly and as always pleasantly. Later that night dancers relaxed in the bar and some couldn’t resist another few steps to the electrical music sound of Tradigy with Brendan Doyle on the box, Gerard Butler on drums, Gerry Miley on guitar, who were also joined by Jim Butler on flute and on the Saturday night by the extraordinarily talented Donegal fiddler Matt McGranaghan.

The following morning dancers seemed to find the adrenalin to drive them on and danced at the set dancing, sean nós and two-hand workshops. Gerard Butler taught the set dancing and sean nós workshops, with detailed instructions of the sets and steps, and his relaxed approach and patience made dancers, new and experienced, feel at ease. Edith Bradley, along with her dance partner Marina, carried out the two-hand workshops, and as always Edith taught her dances thoroughly and explained them in great detail.

The afternoon ceili was danced to music by the dynamic duo Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, always managing to keep the crowd entertained and on their toes. Immediately after the ceili we attended a beautiful Mass by Father Séan Gallagher who also conducted parts of the Mass in their enchanting Gaelic tongue. The hymns were also sung in Gaelic by the Cannon sisters and were a huge topic of conversation throughout the weekend. The music was so spectacular it brought a tear to my eyes and made the hair stand on the back of my neck.

After the jiving workshop a local band, Country Highways, played in the lounge all night for those who wanted to practice their new dances. They filled the magnificent dance floor in the lounge all night. Diane and her father, who also sing in their own band, joined them for a few songs on stage, yet another great treat from the Cannon family.

Johnny Reidy kicked off in the ballroom next door to a packed audience. As ever, people were blown away by the electric atmosphere created by their magnificent Kerry sound. The dance floor was filled from beginning to end and Letterkenny was certainly rocking. Exhausted dancers continued to batter it out later on in the night with yet another fabulous presentation of music by Tradigy. Outstanding performances were displayed throughout the night with both young and old giving sean nós demonstrations.

That night as everyone became steeped in conversation I was amazed to find among the crowd people from Norway, Italy, America, England, Wales, the length and breadth of Ireland, and of course not forgetting all my own Scottish friends, a lot of whom I had never met before and by bed time we were all like old friends.

Sunday morning saw determined dancers out of their bedrooms early and hobbling down the Gone with the Wind inspired staircase of the hotel. Off they set for another morning workshop of mixed two-hand dances by Edith and Marina and set dancing and sean nós by Gerard.

The buzz throughout the hotel was spectacular and although our feet were aching from all the dancing when the Kerry sound started to drift throughout the hotel for the Sunday afternoon ceili we couldn’t help but tap our feet. Crowds began to gather once more for the grand finale ceili by Johnny Reidy and once again the atmosphere was nothing other than electric.

Afterwards people gathered in the lounge, some to bid their farewells until next year, others to unwind before the big country dance later that night. We were treated with the lovely voice of young Sligo man Patrick Feeney, and we danced the night away to this fabulous artist. It was the first time I had heard this young man, but it certainly won’t be the last. During the performance he called the event organiser, Diane Cannon, to the stage and she sang a few songs with his band. The audience were in awe, this girl is destined for stardom with her beautiful and distinctive voice. This was definitely the best weekend’s entertainment I had ever had.

On the following morning as we checked out, sure enough the committee members were there to greet us and stayed about until later on that evening until we were setting off back home, and bid us farewell.

Although we were danced out, we were sad to leave the Hills of Donegal as we had made some great new friends and had an absolutely phenomenal weekend. We will definitely be the first in queue to book again next year and truly cannot wait to travel to Donegal again for next year’s festival.

Máire McGeady, Glasgow, Scotland

Connie’s Grand weekend

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

I was at the Connie Ryan workshop in the Grand Hotel in January. The name alone reflects the vision of Connie in his heyday. He once taught classes in Croke Park and in Dublin Airport, the implication being that set dancing would thrive in the grandest locations and would thus enhance it in the public eye. How right he was: Daniel O’Connell held mass meetings in the most historic places and Seán Ó Riada’s first concert with Ceoltóirí Chualainn was a formal dress one in the Shelbourne.

Connie unwittingly made the Malahide workshop a shrine to himself; he didn’t live to see it boom but that didn’t stop his myriad admirers from making it the premier workshop in the country. This is evidenced in the many who remember him fondly and make it an annual pilgrimage which furthermore attracts world wide support. I counted at least ten non-nationals in attendance and the best dancer by far was a Hungarian who seemed completely at ease in his dancing.

Obviously, Malahide no longer attracts the massive crowds it did in the beginning, which is understandable. Just as well too, because the dance floor was at all times thronged, with Pat Murphy and Eileen Doherty ensuring a varied menu of sets and everything running with precision under the meticulous tutelage of Betty McCoy, aided by her adjutants John and Anne Grant as well as Aidan Vaughan.

Malahide is still a flagship of all workshops and all the new sets must be presented there to ensure universal distribution. Remarkably, this year’s menu consisted of three recently composed sets, the Flight of the Earls, the Antrim Square Set and the Limerick Tumblers Set, each well up to the standards of old. All of which shows that would-be composers should not fear being derided if they come up with similar compositions! This is the natural, evolutionary way forward and should be encouraged. After all it is no different to a new song or a new tune. The old and new will co-exist naturally.

The legacy of Connie Ryan is alive and in rude good health as is evinced by this year’s success and supporters wouldn’t take kindly if it was ever discontinued. Quite simply, it is a great—or is it a Grand?—weekend. Sincerely,

Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick

A Grand total

Hi Bill,

The Slievenamon Set Dancers would like to thank everyone who attended our Mighty Weekend in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, in January. We raised €5,000 for cancer care and this brings the total raised since the death of Connie Ryan to €75,000.

Due to the unavailability of the hotel on our usual dates, next year’s weekend will be 2nd, 3rd and 4th January. Please make a note of this in your diary. We will revert to our usual weekend in January 2010. Many thanks, Bill,

Ann Grant, Foxrock, Co Dublin

Thanks to the set dancers

Dear Bill,

Would it be possible to use the Set Dancing News to say thanks to the set dancers from England, Ireland, America and Scotland for their Mass cards, letters of sympathy and donations on the death of my wife Bridie Roche. Thanks also for the continued support of the Birmingham set dancers and their friends to our family and me. Bridie was a set dancing teacher in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham.

£1,500 was donated to cancer support during Bridie’s funeral.

We miss her very much.

God bless.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Roche, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, England

What a great team

Dear Bill,

What a wonderful set dancing class we had in Maguiresbridge with Eamon, his lovely music and magic feet, not forgetting his wife—what a great team they made! He took up the accordion but unfortunately we never heard him but I’m sure if he played as well as he danced he would have been great to hear. Their clap dance was wonderful.

It is great to know Teresa is continuing the sets. Thank you for all the enjoyment I am having as I’ve never seen so much of Ireland until I took up set dancing.

Sincere sympathy to Teresa and family.

Yours faithfully,

Mary Carron, Macken, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh


Hi Bill,

Just to say what a wonderful success the Johnny Reidy and Tony Ryan weekend was in Birmingham. We had so many dancers from England and Ireland it was terrific. I counted 31 sets on the floor at one time. The band played fantastic and the atmosphere was just electric all weekend. Tony Ryan did us all proud with his expert teaching skills; he made everyone feel at ease. My thanks to all who helped me over the weekend especially Linda Reavey, George Hook, and Pat and Betty Quinn. Thank you everyone in Ireland and England for your great support, and Ger Butler for flying in by the seat of your pants to reach us on the Sunday morning—what a lovely surprise and what a cookie! Special thanks to Ann Mangan and Gabrielle Cassidy for the groups they brought over—hope you had a ball!

Thanks a million,

Kate Howes, Birmingham, England

My half century

Hi Bill,

I enclose a photo from my ceili party on 1st January to celebrate my half century. I asked for donations rather than presents and we raised just over €6,500, shared between GOAL and the Carlow Rape Crisis Centre. I would like to thank Geraldine Byrne, Syl Bell and Liz Hand for their Trojan work and also all our guests, who also worked hard at enjoying themselves. Danny Webster (60 on the day!) provided the music and we had a little surprise for him—Danny’s Girls above.

Go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo aris.


Hilary Nic Íomhair, Castledermot, Co Kildare

We love getting our news

Hello Bill,

trust this finds you well and the population of Ireland looking forward to some fine summer weather! We have had a mostly cool and wet summer, which is a blessed relief here from the threat of bush fires, although the last few weeks have been hot and dry—around 31°C every day.

We love getting our Set Dancing News and even our dog Rince gets in on the act! We love seeing photos of people we know and places we love to frequent when we are in Ireland. It’s also encouraging to see how much dance activity there is going on around the world. And so to us here.

Our regular Monday night class of about two to three sets in Canberra is not growing bigger but deepening in skill, knowledge and stamina, and this is very satisfying for us. Our recent St Patrick’s Day ceili was an intimate affair but lively, with six sets danced in around two hours. I reminded those present that three years ago, they were unable to dance even one set without a rest between each figure. We have also started a steps for sets class of thirty minutes before the usual set dancing class. This gives a focus on the very basic footwork needed for battering and confident stepping in sets. It also gives dancers a better appreciation of the rhythm of the music and the need to listen carefully to always be in time.

We have recently initiated a local class here in the Bywong bush and we hope to grow the passion for sets here with our neighbours. One thing we have learned with teaching sets is that the house move—around the house or dancing at home—is quite difficult and off-putting for lots of newcomers as it makes them dizzy. Our Bywong class is now learning the intricacies of the Caragh Lake Jig Set. Doing the square and the diamond is a great lead-in to learning to house.

Keep up the excellent work with the magazine and we look forward to seeing all our dancing friends in the summer.

Very best wishes,

Nora Stewart and Martin Largey, Bywong, New South Wales, Australia

Shindig thanks

Dear Bill,

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended this year’s Shindig in Tralee. Once again it was a great success.

A special thank you to Pat Murphy, Ger Butler and Róisín Ní Mhainín who each taught excellent workshops.

We would like to say a big thank you to all the bands—Swallow’s Tail, Taylor’s Cross, Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, Jig Time Ceili Band, Abbey Ceili Band, Davey Ceili Band, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh—and special guest singer and fiddle player Dessie O’Halloran and the other musicians, storytellers and singers who joined in for the great Shindig sessions that went on till the wee hours of the morning again this year.

Thanks to everyone who travelled long distances from home and abroad. It was great to see people from Switzerland, Germany, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, America and the UK putting the special effort in to attend.

Looking forward to seeing you all again. Our dates for the next Shindig Festival are January 23rd–25th 2009. If anybody would like to see videos taken at the Shindig Festival 2008, they can go to and type in shindigfest and hit the search button. They will then see a selection of videos taken during the Shindig.

Yours sincerely,

Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin, Tralee, Co Kerry

The little simple things of life

Hi Bill,

It is February 1st, freezing cold, blowing a gale and snow on the way. Now I am semi-retired I have more time on my hands. How can I pass this day? It is far too cold to go out. What is that thud in the hall? I go out to see. My Set Dancing News has just been posted through my door—even the postman is smiling. The sun is now shining and it is much warmer. Will I have enough time today to read my favourite magazine cover to cover?

Thanks, Bill and all concerned, for all you do for Set Dancing News. Hello to all my dancing friends in Ireland.

Eileen McGuire, Manchester, England

Makes it all the better


Your cover photo for the February-March issue is a gem! The young lady dancing with her father is great subject material and the lighting with slave flash makes it all the better. Someday I’d like to do some set dancing in Vaughan’s Barn.

All the best.

Jim Holland, Wilmington, Delaware

Improving each issue

Dear Bill,

You are doing a great job. The magazine looks very good and is improving each issue.

Keep up the good work!

Hope to see you in New York soon.

Kathleen Gallagher, Bronx, New York

A lot of interesting articles

Hello Bill,

Just a brief note to thank you for having put the article on our year-end workshop at Lake Thun, Switzerland, in a great format in your last issue—we appreciated seeing it surrounded by all the pictures Pat had taken. As always, the issue had a lot of interesting articles to read and gives a great overview on the set dancing events taking place all over the world.

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

Manuela Morel, Kilchberg, Switzerland


Matt Cunningham does it again

You’d think sixteen volumes of music for set dancing would be all you’d ever need, but that’s not Matt Cunningham’s way! The sixteen CD volumes of his series called Dance Music of Ireland has over sixteen hours of dancing containing close to seventy sets plus ceili and two hand dances. The collection is now joined by Volume 17, which has five more sets—Antrim Square, Dublin, Flight of the Earls, Limerick Tumblers and Sliabh Fraoch. All five have been recently introduced in workshops and four of them have been composed by dance teachers.

It was once rare to find a newly created set at a workshop but they’re now gaining acceptance. Des Jackson in Sydney, Australia, devised the Antrim Square, Seán Clerkin is responsible for the Dublin Set, the Limerick Tumblers is by Terry Moylan and Jim Keenan of Washington DC created the Flight of the Earls.

Matt, based outside Headford, Co Galway, has led one of the busiest and most popular ceili bands for more than thirty years. His recordings have given an enormous boost to the set dancing revival. Teachers and dancers anywhere in the world have a vast collection of the correct music for sets in a convenient form, suitable for teaching and dancing for pleasure. Volume 17 is available from Matt and from his record company, Ainm Records. All sixteen previous volumes are also available.

Danny Webster

Danny Webster, the versatile one-man band from Barna, Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, can play any kind of dance music you’d, sets, ceili, two-hands, waltzes, jives, foxtrots, quicksteps and many more beyond that. At the end of March Danny launched a brand new CD called Songs Just for You, highlighting his love for songs and singing. Lovers of dance will find the songs equally enjoyable for a whirl around the ballroom. each of Danny’s six CDs offers dancers and listeners something different, from sets and two-hands to social dancing and now a selection of his favourite songs. Contact Danny to get your own copy or ask him next time you meet at a ceili.

Come West Along the Road

Come West Along the Road is the fascinating RTÉ television series hosted by Nicholas Carolan which unearths old clips of traditional music and dance which has been running for ten years. Late last year a second DVD of clips from the series was released, Come West Along the Road 2, with over fifty tracks. Most are strictly music, but a few show priceless bits of dancing. Where else could you see youthful Mick Mulkerrin and Séamus Ó Méalóid stepping it out in 1982, or the Wexford Half-Set from 1977? There are also a few pieces of step dancing, but without doubt the highlight for set dancers is a couple short, breathtaking minutes of the Mullagh Half-Set performing the Caledonian—Willie Keane’s joyous dancing is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes! The only complaint is that the modern widescreen format means that heads and feet are often clipped from view. The DVD is available in Irish shops and to order from various websites.

Bradford group coming to Mayo

Patrick Trainer, president of the Bradford Irish Centre, Bradford, England handed a cheque for £250 to Mary Lewis at a party in December. The donation is going toward an upcoming cultural tour of Ireland by Mary and the pupils of her school of set dancing. Look out for the girls in Co Mayo in August in their 75-seat coach. In the meantime they’re raising funds to help finance the trip and are grateful for any help they receive.

Sean nós jig contest winner

The 2008 winner of the annual contest of sean nós jig dancing, Comórtas Cóilín Sheáin Dharach, held in Rosmuc, Co Galway, in January, was Paul Moran. He is the first ‘stranger’ to win the competition—Paul is from Salthill, whereas all the previous winners were from Connemara. He is known as musician as well as set and sean nós dancer.

Events of the weekend also included sean nós workshops by James Devine, from Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, and Róisín Ní Mhainín from Connemara.

Watch the three top performances from the contest on—search for dharach.

Deck the halls

December is the best time of year for set dancing ceilis, dinners and parties, yet it’s the worst for weather. During the month your brave editor ignored discouraging meteorological reports and tried to dance as often as possible to preserve a bit of the season’s festive flavour on these pages. Please enjoy!

Deodorant or dust

November hadn’t quite finished when I began my month of Christmas dancing on Friday, November 30th. With a choice of four ceilis listed in Set Dancing News in four different directions, I opted for a trip south to Ballyvourney, Co Cork, in deepest Sliabh Luachra. A festival popular with singers, Éigse Diarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin, fills the village and area with music lovers, and set dancers show up as well for two ceilis in the Abbey Hotel. I phoned the hotel just before departing without any expectation of finding a spare bed, but I was delighted they still had a place for me—my procrastination occasionally rewards me—though only for one night. Weekend weather reports were promising eleven metre waves along the west coast and so it might not have been the best day to take the Shannon Ferry. While it was rough and choppy on the river, there wasn’t even a hint of those giant waves, so I just sat in my car windows closed tight, doors locked, warm, dry and all belted up, imagining myself motoring through a tsunami. When I arrived at the hotel I found a silver lining—the storm had solved my weekend accommodation problem! I was now booked in for two nights because a singers’ club cancelled their bus trip. Last year they were trapped at the Éigse by floods and were afraid that history would repeat itself this year.

All thoughts of floods and forty-foot waves made an immediate exit from my consciousness as soon as Johnny Reidy began his magical music for the Connemara Set. It’s funny how the outside world vanishes when you’re at a ceili. I asked one lady for a set at the start and she could only offer me the fifth set, an offer I couldn’t refuse, and otherwise I scanned the floor for raised hands or just raised my own hand. Dancing with a stranger is often a great way to meet a new friend and a fantastic dance partner. On the other hand, I witnessed a lady proposing marriage to her partner, but no matter how many times she asked, his answer was always the same—“No!” I even offered to announce the engagement in these pages with a photo to no avail. Nevertheless they seemed good friends and enjoyed their set. When the final Lancers Set was over, my thoughts of the outside world returned but I only had to leave the hall and climb a flight of stairs before I was warm, dry and snug in bed.

Ballyvourney stayed flood-free overnight and my dreams of being stranded for a week in the Abbey Hotel with a top ceili band and a ballroom full of lovely dancers came to nought, except for another three hours on Saturday night. This time the music was supplied by Tim Joe O’Riordan and Anne O’Riordan, two superb musicians who happen to be related by marriage. Tim Joe is not only a clever fellow on accordion, at the same time without missing a note he can call a set or sing some nice waltzes. I danced again with my new fantastic dance partner from yesterday, a Kerry lady who professed great love for Clare reel sets. She was rewarded with five of them tonight, including three Plain sets and the increasingly popular Labasheeda, all seven figures of it, which we danced last night as well. On the other hand, as a Clare resident I have a great fondness for Cork and Kerry sets, three of which rounded out the programme, including my two top favourites, the Borlin and West Kerry.

“Sides . . . ,” Tim Joe called out during the Ballyvourney Jig, a full eight bars early while the tops were only halfway through their slide and change, “. . . get ready.” During that set all my attention was devoted to my partner, who seemed to be suffering some kind of allergic distress which increased with each figure. I wondered if it might have been my deodorant, or lack thereof, but she tactfully blamed the dust. The classic Clare Caledonian was a satisfying end to two fun days in Ballyvourney.

The show must go on

Stormy weather had no impact on the festivities at the Bloomfield House Hotel outside Mullingar, Co Westmeath, where the Glenside Ceili Band launched their second CD, Take the Floor, on Thursday December 6th. This was a new venue to me with an elegant ballroom and clean, well-kept floor. Multiple ceili bands assisted with the celebrations, beginning with that stalwart trio, Carousel, a favourite at ceilis from Dublin to Mayo and all points between, who supplied a lively Connemara Set. After a couple of sets the Glenside themselves took over for the Corofin, and my partner and I were doing quite nicely when the set finished halfway through! Ricey Scully of Midlands Radio temporarily halted the dancing as his live two-hour broadcast of the event was about to begin. Feeling unfulfilled after that incomplete set, I re-booked my partner for later. The parade of ceili bands continued with Sean Norman and then the Brian Ború Ceili Band, who had time for just one set, leaving their expectant loyal fans clamouring for more. The night’s special guest was Mick Foster, half of the Foster and Allen duo who topped the charts and recorded dozens of albums over the past thirty years. Mick himself performs on the Glenside’s new CD and gave us a welcome taste of his talent, singing songs and playing trad tunes on the piano accordion. The hall was overwhelmed with excitement when a decorated cake and candles were presented to Mick in celebration of his sixtieth birthday. Ricey had a few words with Mick and then an orderly queue of ladies formed to provide birthday kisses. The real stars of the night were the musicians of the Glenside, and Tom Flood, their amiable box player, spoke some lovely words to Ricey on their behalf. The band finished out the night with help from friends including Pat Walsh, and I went home with a great feeling and a box of CDs.

Carrigaline rendezvous

Kilfenora was in the grip of a raging storm and I wondered if I’d be safe to travel, but there’s not much in the way of weather to keep me from dancing. It didn’t take the storm long to calm down for my comfortable 2½ hour journey to Carrigaline, Co Cork. I had a choice of ten ceilis across the country tonight and any one of them would have been worth the journey, but my decision was made back in October when I agreed to meet an old friend from London here. I arrived early enough to see the last of the Christmas decorations being strung across the hall, and when the Abbey Ceili Band started the music for just a handful of sets I wondered if the large hall would ever fill. It certainly did! Soon enough it was packed with the most enthusiastic crowd of all ages. The number of young people dancing here is remarkable and probably unique. These aren’t the usual kids seen at ceilis who have been dancing all their lives and love to batter the hell out of the floor, but twenty-somethings (and probably younger) who have taken it up voluntarily for their own pleasure. They wouldn’t yet be experts but they’re full of love and joy of dancing—as was everyone else! Keenly watching the “talent” on the floor was the beloved doyenne of Cork set dancers, Delia Allshire, who has an opinion on everyone and offers it when you can gain her respected confidence. I made a point of catching her eye whenever I was dancing in her vicinity, and was delighted to get a nod when she approved of my partner.

During the break as we enjoyed our tea, scones, cake and sandwiches, the hall was suddenly plunged into darkness! From the back emerged a bagpiper followed by a gentleman carrying a cake with flaming candles. The club was celebrating the eleventh anniversary of their monthly ceilis—the last December ceili I attended here was the second anniversary in 1998! After the break the dancing couldn’t resume until the floor was swept—one fellow steered an extra wide brush and his helper cleared a path for him through the crowd.

I met my London friend as soon as she arrived and she was kind enough to dance two sets with me. A lively dancer who responded to my messing with a few tricks of her own, she twirled me around under her finger the same as I had been trying to do to her! I was reminded of the time we were waltzing in East London and she waltzed me out the door and onto the street. The odd thing is that she claims I was the one who did that to her! In any case, we seem to bring out the best in each other. Delia gave a smiling nod.

Sliabh Bloom boppin’

Lately I’ve given partial control of my car over to a little talking computer called Tomtom which receives instructions from dozens of satellites encircling the globe. She speaks to me in a precise, helpful tone which I nevertheless find easy to ignore as she often gets her directions wrong. I especially needed her help on December 10th as I’d never before been to the Community Centre in Ballyfin, Co Laois, and didn’t she take me straight there, clever girl! Tonight’s event was the launch of Maureen Culleton’s new DVD and accompanying CD called Learn to Dance. I imagine you wouldn’t often see fifteen sets dancing on a Monday night in Ballyfin, but they came from all over to participate in the fun. I was surprised and pleased to meet another Clare dancer and to start we danced the local Killyon Set, from a village just over the Sliabh Bloom Mountains from here. Sean Norman led the musicians for the lively sets and plenty of two-hand dancing. Maureen did all the calling, usually while dancing herself, and performed the official launch after giving credit and a copy of the DVD to all who helped her. Sam O’Doherty was the honoured musical guest of the night, who just happens to be Maureen’s first cousin. A true one-man band, he played and sang country songs which had everyone out boppin’ on the floor, plus more two-hand dances as featured on the DVD and a rake of Christmas carols. There was still time for a Cashel Set from Sean Norman, and afterward we all gave our warmest appreciation to Maureen for the enjoyable night and for all she does to share her love of traditional dance.

Daring to do the Corofin

A quick five minutes down the road and I found myself back in Vaughan’s Barn, Kilfenora, Co Clare, for their Christmas party on December 13th. No one took any money at the door and Maggie Vaughan behind the bar even offered a drink for free! It was a good night for meeting folks you haven’t seen for a while, especially as I hadn’t been here myself since the summer. The Four Courts Ceili Band sounded better than ever, and the dancing was a complete delight. Five sets filled the original cow shed and two more danced in the new extension. I did a couple of sets there myself next to the trunk of a tree which supports the roof. I could see it was once a real tree because it’s started to sprout mushrooms! On special nights like this they serve tea, cake, sandwiches and brown bread with smoked salmon. For the last set of the night we did something daring—the Corofin Plain Set! It’s only danced here on rare occasions as everyone finds the regular five sets—Caledonian, Kilfenora, Connemara, Plain and Lancers—so satisfying.

Battering equality

Cois na hAbhna in Ennis, Co Clare, reopened for ceilis earlier this year after some major changes and is looking better than ever. The new glazed entrance is bright and welcoming, and a major extension includes a relaxing and smart-looking bar. The main hall remains mostly unchanged and the floor has been preserved in all its glory, and the patrons were the same loyal dancers who have been attending ceilis here for years. Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh began the music on time at 9.30pm and I still felt the old excitement of dancing here in the days when Michael Sexton, Micheál’s father, was still with us. I was pleased to find that several of my favourite partners hadn’t forgotten me since then and still seemed to enjoy spinning around the floor with me. During the Plain Set my partner and I watched one of the side couples with dazzled amazement as the gent and lady outdid each other for battering in the classic Clare style.

“He’s a human jackhammer,” my partner whispered.

“And she’s the female version of a human jackhammer,” I replied.

Tea break took place in the enlarged kitchen and bar, where there was comfortable seating for everyone, rather than in the hall as in past days, where chairs are in short supply. With a few more sets danced, we finished around 1am and in contrast to most of my other outings this month, I was happy to be home within half an hour.

Happiness prescribed

If ever you’re in need of an emotional recharge, get yourself to Dun na Sí in Moate, Co Westmeath, whenever one of their two monthly ceilis takes place. There’s no easier way to boost your happiness levels. Of course, the same can be said of the Glenside Ceili Band, so when you experience both together as I did on Sunday, December 16th, you’ll end up in the best of spirits. An enormous turf fire warmed the hall and those arriving with a chill can sit into the fireplace to warm themselves. Of course, once the dancing began there’s no further need of a fire and before long any and all doors were open for a breath of cool air. Everyone was broadcasting smiles around the hall, except for one serious-looking fellow who annoyed my partner by never showing any enjoyment. But at least he was kind enough to offer sweets to the rest of us in the set, and my partner took one.

“Maybe they make you smile,” she said.

Later I actually got a smile from him when I took a photo so perhaps the sweets worked! When dancing sets in Dun na Sí be prepared for some messing—it’s nearly obligatory. Sides don’t stand idly by awaiting their turn; they join with tops whenever possible—and vice versa. Everyone does wheelbarrows together, little Christmases become big Christmases, lead ’rounds include all four couples, all to maximise the dancing fun.

For one of the sets after the tea break, the band gave us a choice of doing the Caledonian or High-Cauled Cap, and among a roomful of Caledonians, I was in the one set doing the Cap. All started well, except that the band stopped after the first figure to shouts of disapproval by my set-mates. There were no breaks after that and we even danced a bit of the Caledonian at the end. The evening ended with a selection of lively carols, which caused us all to form long chains of dancers that snaked around the hall in a frenzy of Christmas spirit, a perfect example of the Glenside–Dun na Sí effect!

Cows no more

Every time I travel to Watergrasshill, Co Cork, to dance in Michael Murphy’s barn, the roads seem completely different. Travelling there for a Christmas party on December 17th I discovered a previously unknown stretch of motorway, though Ms Tomtom in consultation with her satellite friends carefully guided me away from it. She didn’t know the way to the barn at all so I had to rely on my own navigational skills along the tiny country lanes outside the village. I arrived in plenty of time and was able to bask in the glow from a roaring gas heater like a jet engine which was quickly warming up the chilly hall. With a bit of imagination I could see the place filled with cows, as it was many years ago; transformed by a timber floor, fans in the ceiling and recycled doors, walls, furniture and decorations, it’s now regularly packed with dancers. Tonight’s party was for the regulars at the Monday night class, though some came from as far as Waterford and West Cork. The sets followed one another at a nonstop pace, thanks to a CD player that never got tired or took a break, and included the Clare Mazurka, Portmagee Meserts and the Sliabh Fraoch. I met my fantastic partner again, and by the looks we got while dancing our sets, you’d think the folks had never seen doubling before! A sumptuous tea was served in the adjacent tea lounge, and afterward everyone went straight back to dancing. At the end of the evening I noticed that all the used tea mugs and plates hadn’t been cleared and cleaned. Michael said he’d leave them overnight and run them through the dishwasher in the morning. That’s rather similar to my own approach to washing up—why do it now when it will wait till morning?

Knickers on display

Durrow Hall isn’t much to look at, an old one-room schoolhouse in the village of Durrow, Co Offaly, standing between a church and a cemetery, now converted into a little hall, but it’s actually an unexpected oasis of set dancing excitement. As soon as people arrived for the December 18th Christmas party there was a buzz in the air, a clear warning sign of the electric atmosphere to come. Many of them wore funny costumes which encouraged behaviour to match, once the music by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh began. One fellow was dressed in a black suit and a stovepipe hat as “The Undie Taker”—colourful ladies’ undergarments were pinned all over his suit. One lady nicked a little red and white pair of knickers from him, put them on under her Santa suit and displayed them by special request. A mad doctor with a stethoscope provided a free examination service in the hall between figures and sets. There could have been a dozen sets in a venue which comfortably takes eight and every dance was full of hilarity. After a bit of encouragement, a few steppers came out onto the floor for solo displays between sets. Toward the end of the night most of the folks had discarded their disguises and reverted to their own personalities but the fun never stopped till the national anthem.

Many men, lacking ladies

Vaughan’s was quieter on December 20th without the major attraction of a free party. Gents outnumbered the ladies by two to one, and when two sets started dancing there were at least two sets worth of men waiting for more women to come through the door. One lady recommended a buck set but the suggestion fell on deaf ears. After two sets like this one fellow took his leave, despairing of his chances for a partner. I was considering the same action but was rescued by a lady who took pity and danced the last two sets with me. That’s all it took to send me home happy!

Play it again, Tulla

On its peaceful riverside location, Claddagh Hall feels like a country hall but to get here I had to cross miles of roundabouts, suburban roads and urban streets to land myself in the centre of Galway City. On December 21st people arrived here from as far as Dublin for a golden opportunity to dance to the Tulla Ceili Band. The first set called was the gorgeous South Galway, but without a partner, I quickly found myself a place and raised my hand—no volunteers were forthcoming! I spotted a pre-teen girl sitting by the band and invited her to join me—the bliss started here, continued with the Caledonian and lasted all night long. Did you ever wonder why Clare bands often play two Caledonian sets during a ceili? I think it might be because of late-arriving Clare dancers who miss the first Caledonian and won’t go home until the band plays it again. We had a rare treat when Martin Bolger, the highly regarded Roscommon teacher, now living in Sligo, performed a few sean nós steps. Martin told me he only goes to ceilis once every six months, usually when the Tulla are playing in Claddagh. We also danced a round of waltzes, a medley of favourites sung by flute player and mc J J Conway from Kilfenora—everyone sang along! During the half-time break, tea was reserved for the band, but after the end of the ceili the kitchen was open to all who wanted a cuppa, a biccy and some homemade cake before setting off on the journey home.

High midnight

My post-Christmas return to dancing was delayed due to a cold, but by the night of December 27th my nasal passages were clear again and I was ready for another night in Vaughan’s Barn. We had a better supply of ladies tonight so I had more opportunities to dance, and with everyone still in a holiday frame of mind the craic was mighty. Eight English visitors got up to dance in a set of their own, and even though it was a new experience for most of them, they did very well and eagerly came back to dance every set after that. In fact that’s how I felt when the ceili ended at midnight—on a high and ready for more!

Cashel Cashel

When I say, “The most popular polka set in set dancing,” which set would come to mind? Overall, I think the award would have to go to the Cashel Set, the pride and joy of Co Tipperary, and what better place to dance it than the town of Cashel? The ceili on December 28th was in Halla na Féile, a classic dance hall from the showband days with a well-sprung floor nearly the size of a football pitch. I met two Cork ladies on a free weekend hotel break and had the pleasure of the first two and last two sets with them. They had never heard Colin McGill and James Hogan before and were impressed, as we all were with the lovely dancing. Our first Tipp set was the Ballycommon, a fun one not often danced elsewhere. The Cashel Set is a joy to dance, but there are at least three ways to dance the fifth figure and I never know which one to expect. However I was pleased to see that they did it correctly here, the same as we usually do in Clare, with the initial long lead ’round and a circle only at the end. The most exciting set of the night was a High-Cauled Cap and Lancers Set combo. My set and another danced the Cap; the rest went nonstop on the Lancers. The best part was when we finished the Cap and went straight into the middle of the fourth figure of the Lancers—two sets for the price of one! The Plain Set was good too, free of breaks until we arrived at the jig. To finish up there was a bonus rake of reels, and when the national anthem sounded the time wasn’t much beyond 12.30am, yet we had over 3½ hours of dancing thanks to the prompt nine o’clock start.

Never a tight corner

Another taste of the Glenside Ceili Band and of the new improved Cois na hAbhna tempted me out to Ennis on December 29th. For the opening Caledonian Set I was searching in vain for a partner to fill one last place in a set, and another gent was doing the same thing. I suggested to him that we split up the two ladies dancing together opposite the gap, but when I asked them, they protested, saying they always danced together and the lady dancing the gent didn’t know how to dance the set any other way. To get things rolling, I just took the hand of the “gent” and brought her beside me and the other guy stood in by the lady and we were finally able to begin. In fact she was always trying to take the leading position and put me on her right, to laughter all around, but soon enough she was doing it perfectly. “You ought to do this more often,” I said. “You make a great lady!” The floor was rather slick tonight, great for swinging, doubling and even quadrupling, though a bit more care was needed for ladies chains and gallops. Waltzing was sheer perfection. I was lucky enough to be asked up and it was like skating on ice! My partner and I covered about twice the distance with half the effort and three times the fun. Also, Cois na hAbhna’s circular floor means we never got stuck in corners! You might be able to guess which set we finished with—yes, a reprise of the Caledonian by special request!

Unlimited refills

Mind the gap whenever you’re going dancing in Thurles, Co Tipperary, because that’s where you’ll find the Band Hall. I danced once before at a ceili in this homely little venue, but on December 30th I just couldn’t find it. I turned onto the correct back street and drove along it a couple of times without spotting the entrance. A customer at a convenience store pointed it out to me, just a hundred metres away, a narrow opening between a garage and a house. It was only when I drove through that I noticed the little “ceili” sign posted to one side. The hall was built by musicians and dancers for marching band practices and dance classes and ceilis. Last time I was here the tea room had been recently added, and this time a new extension at the back provided extra seating with tables and chairs supplementing the benches around the floor. The walls are like a museum of local memorabilia, covered in photos, posters and of course Christmas decorations. This was my first time hearing Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter, but the gorgeous music was familiar as I’ve heard Ger playing box many times with the Abbey Ceili Band. Ken accompanied on piano and sang some lovely songs. The dancing was like a dream come true for aficionados of new and unusual sets, with specialities like the Doire Cholmcille, Sliabh Fraoch and Claddagh. Just before the tea break mc and caller Michael Loughnane taught the Siege of Carrick, a ceili dance similar to the Walls of Limerick. We were nearly two hours dancing by this time so there was an immediate rush to the tea room for refreshment. The long queue to fill our plates with the luscious cakes and other appealing edibles stretched out into the hall. We brought the food to any of a dozen small tables and took a seat, then special volunteer tea pourers came by and filled our mugs as many times as we wanted—an excellent service! The Kilfenora Set was the last of the three post-tea break sets, and with an early 8pm start and an 11.30 finish, it wasn’t an unreasonable hour when I reached Kilfenora myself.

The first Caledonian

There’s no place like home, as I learned from The Wizard of Oz on RTÉ the Saturday before Christmas, and no better place than Vaughan’s to dance on New Year’s Eve! The Barn must be like a second home to the Four Courts, who show up to play here twice a week and also for special events like celebrity weddings and holiday celebrations. The old reliable Caledonian made a perfect start to the festivities—any other set undoubtedly would have been catastrophic and led to the cancellation of 2008! After four sets and a pair of waltzes, the last set of 2007 was the Connemara, which ended in the final moments before midnight. Joe Rynne, the band’s fiddler, singer and mc, directed everyone to link hands around the hall, then counted down the final ten seconds. Cheers erupted, the band played Auld Lang Syne, and we wished each other Happy New Year with handshakes, hugs and kisses. After tea was served and consumed with pleasure, we welcomed the new year with three waltzes sung by Joe, and got the set dancing started on the right foot with our old faithful Caledonian. As a special treat, the Corofin finished the night, which I watched from the benches—until the fourth figure. That’s when I noticed the first top lady leading around on her own, so I stepped in as her temporary partner. I soon spotted the original fellow by the bar and motioned for him to come over, but he waved me on, so I was only delighted to carry on dancing. If the rest of the year goes as well as this night, then I’m in for a good one. I hope your year of dancing is just as good!

Bill Lynch

Jubilant Frankfurt

Home to the German stock exchange (the DAX) and banking and insurance capital of Germany, Frankfurt am Main saw the celebration of the tenth jubilee workshop of the Irish Set Dancers Frankfurt on the first weekend in November. Annie and Bert Moran guided us through the ceilis and workshops with our own musicians, the Killian Ceili Band with guest, Sarah Hale from St Louis, Missouri, on flute. The ASTA students’ group allowed us to use their splendid Festsaal (festival hall) near the old Bockenheim watch-tower, for the entire weekend.

As the venue was part of the University Sports Union, we had a number of freshers, so Friday evening started with basics steps practiced to some lively music Annie and Bert had collected in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Some fifty dancers stepped out reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas under the green, white and orange banners of Ireland hanging across the hall. The Borlin Jenny Set followed and kept us on the hop, so to say, with its lively reel step.

The informal ceili was with our own musicians joined by Sean Walsh (piano accordion), Sarah Hale (flute, whistle) and the multi-talented Bert Moran (button accordion). A brilliant short session started the ceili off, and then we went into the not so informal ceili with the Cashel, Clare Lancers, Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, and Sliabh Luachra sets amongst others. Annie kindly helped the newcomers by calling when needed.

The workshops on Saturday brought us sets not only new to the Frankfurt group, but some that were new to our visitors from Switzerland and other parts of Germany. The Louisburgh Set with its fine patterns reminded us that Pat Murphy’s third book is still not in print, and left us looking through old copies of the Set Dancing News for the instructions. Amongst the other sets taught were the Claddagh, popular in Ireland but not well known by our group, and Skibbereen, as it is local to where Annie and Bert teach. Bert entertained and taught us about the history of various sets as we danced through the day. Annie explained the steps and led the demonstrations, while Bert kept an eagle eye open for people needing help. Bottomless pots of tea, coffee and soft drinks helped to maintain our fluid balance, while the innumerable cakes fought to add more inches to our waists than the dancing took off, and we danced a lot!

Saturday evening saw the first performance of the Killian Ceili Band. It was led by Donal Campbell, born in Cork, who learned traditional fiddle playing, especially the Sliabh Luachra and Sligo styles, from his father. Sean Walsh, a well known piano accordion player from Skibbereen, All-Ireland CCÉ winner and music teacher played alongside Jackie Small (button accordion) of the Irish Traditional Music Archive and active proponent of Irish music in Germany. Ekhart Topp accompanied on guitar, Christian Tewordt, alias Quest, was on flute and uilleann pipes, while Sarah Hale made light of blending her lively flute and whistle in with the group as though she had played with them for years. The clear and vibrant polkas in Sliabh Luachra style were a joy to dance to, while not so often heard tunes in the lively reels and slides left us just wanting to listen.

During the evening break, Sean, Quest and Sarah decided to give us an impromptu concert. They held us spell bound. Sarah surprised us all by then getting straight up and giving a step dance performance that was so light and effortless, it looked so easy, deceptively so for the competition step dancer. From there it was straight back into the ceili band for Sarah with the new sets we had learned, well-known sets and old-fashioned waltzes. For the insatiable, there was a session in the Art Bar, a real music pub, after midnight. They were still playing when I left at 3am.

Sunday saw a tired but enthusiastic group come together for the final two sets. The Killyon Set from Co Offaly very much kept our attention as we never quite knew what to expect, what with every figure varying in its make-up. Keeping the ceili hold throughout was another surprise for us, making it a set well worth repeating and it was suitable for beginners too. The Labasheeda was a welcome refresher for those that had been at Burg Waldeck, especially as it is danced so often in Ireland.

This was the first workshop we had organised ourselves, so we were a little on tenterhooks that everything went well. Everyone in our group helped, even those who couldn’t attend, some sending cakes in with friends, or coming early to help before going off to work. Bert, Annie, and the Killian Ceili Band are all looking forward to coming back next year to lead our guests and us through another set dance adventure.

Andrew Podzorski, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Halloween in l'Isle-Jourdain

Fourteen dancers including six tutors travelled from Ireland to this compact peaceful town in France to attend the Festival of Irish Music and Dance which took place from November 1st to 4th. We arrived on Halloween and we noticed two young girls dressed in familiar Halloween costume trick or treating on the street. That was the only indication that the feast was celebrated. Tricolours, bunting and shop windows decorated with shamrocks awaited the visitors. Traditional Irish music could be heard over the PA system in the town square. It seemed as if the entire community had prepared for the festival. Restaurants were serving colcannon, Guinness stew, pumpkin, green pea and coconut soup. Bar personnel wore specially designed t-shirts with leprechauns and shamrocks.

On arrival we were treated to refreshments in the home of Gladys Perochon, organiser of the event. Our first engagement was an impromptu performance for elderly patients in a local geriatric hospital. They and the staff thoroughly enjoyed the lively music and dancing. Having enjoyed a delicious meal in truly French style, we attended a hip-hop concert where local children, as young as three years, performed their routines to perfection.

The festival began in earnest with a spectacular concert by Keltiac and Solstice in the Salle des Fêtes—a comfortable cosy venue—in which walls, ceiling and floor were carefully designed so that top quality sound was produced by musicians, singers and dancers. After the concert proper, there was a session of informal French dancing which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Down to business on Saturday morning when all participants assembled in the Salle des Fêtes for the official welcome and introduction to the tutors. Céline and Michael Tubridy taught old style traditional step dances. Maria O’Leary and Jim Monaghan taught sets to beginners. Tony Ryan and I taught advanced dancers. We brought them through Durrow Threshing, Thurles, Sliabh Fraoch, Derrada and Killyon sets, progressive waltzes and two-hand dances. There was a great attendance at all workshops.

After our evening meal, several pubs in the town welcomed dancers into their premises where we enjoyed super music, dancing and hospitality until the very small hours. On Saturday night we danced to the Froggy Land ceili band and friends. To get the night off to a sociable start we danced Circassian Circle to lively jigs. During the ceili I counted twenty-one musicians on the stage, playing marvellous music for us while we danced set after set for at least four hours. A mighty night of dance was enjoyed by all.

Activities on Sunday morning consisted of party pieces where different groups of dancers and singers showed what they had learned at the various workshops. Presentations were made to the tutors, followed by thank-yous, good wishes and goodbyes. After lunch our bus was ready for the journey to La Rochelle. Our sincere gratitude to Gladys and her family and friends for their hospitality and the wonderful care and attention which they afforded us on our visit to l’Isle-Jourdain. I wish them continued success with their dancing and their festival.

Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois

Every dancer’s dream

The seventh annual Sean-Óg Set Dancing Weekend was the best ever in lovely Longford. The homely Longford Arms Hotel on the main street and the cosmopolitan Annaly just across the street housed the hundreds of dancers who had turned up for the festival. This year the organisers added new workshops and events to the already fabulous diary of events we had grown to enjoy over the years.

The weekend got underway with a workshop in jiving given by Seamus Melvin. He had been giving these classes over the last few years and conducted them in Listowel, Co Kerry, at Fleadh Ibiza and during Fleadh Portugal. This young Co Mayo man is a natural teacher. He explains every move and demonstrates as he instructs. He has a super personality and is most unassuming. His wife Linda and her friend Fiona very ably assist him. The class was packed but Seamus and his assistants ensured that anyone who needed one to one attention wasn’t left wanting.

Tim Joe O’Riordan and his beautiful wife Anne provided the music for the first ceili of the weekend. The ballroom in the Longford Arms Hotel was packed long before it got underway at 10pm.We danced all the usual sets including the popular Claddagh. Late night revellers adjourned to the bar at 1.30am after the ceili to chat, relax and have a few dances to the session music of Tradigy, with Brendan Doyle (box), Ger Butler (bodhrán) and Gerry Miley (guitar).

Saturday morning Pat Murphy began his workshop at 10.30am with the South Sligo Lancers.The figures are pretty simple; the only hiccup was the steps in the second figure called “the bit on the side.”

The second set of the morning was the Flight of the Earls. Pat gave us a brief history of this set and its author. Anyone familiar with primary school history will remember studying the nine years war in Ulster and the subsequent flight of the earls. One of their first sanctuaries in Europe was at the Franciscan College in Louvain. This college had a long and distinguished association with Ireland. In 1984 the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe was founded and based in the college. In recent years the institute has organised many Irish and cultural events including set dancing festivals. A couple of years ago their set dancing teacher, Armagh born Jim Keenan, was asked to choreograph a set to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Flight of the Earls. Jim taught the set in Louvain in 2006 and travelled to Killybegs, Co Donegal, in October 2007 to launch it at the Flight of the Earls festival.

This is a wonderful set with four figures, each representing part of the story of the earls. The first figure is the Battle (reels), second is the Journey (reels), followed by Louvain (jigs) and the Diaspora (hornpipes).

Our workshop finished at 1pm. The twenty sets that had gathered had a marvellous morning’s dancing. Pat Murphy is an exceptionally brilliant and meticulous dance master. He loves and enjoys both dancing and imparting his knowledge to others.

While Pat Murphy gave his class, Gerard Butler taught a sean nós dancing workshop in the ballroom of the Annaly Hotel. I spoke with friends who attended and they were loud in their praise of Gerard. His class had approximately 75 dancers in attendance.

The afternoon began at 2pm with a mini-ceili. I was privileged to be among the huge crowd of dancers who had gathered in the Longford Arms ballroom for the launch of the Lough Ree Ceili Band, one of the newest on the scene.

Playing banjo was Johnny Duffy, who also plays with the Glenside Ceili Band. On keyboard was Liz Ryan, who used to play with the Glenside. Colin Butler, brother to Gerard, was on drums and the magic accordion player was Brendan Doyle from Moate, Co Westmeath. The music was superb and the dancing electric. We just kept dancing and managed to dance four sets in the hour. There was dust flying as the leather soles of the set dancing shoes hardly touched the floor to the music of these brilliant musicians.

The style of dancing changed but the mood of the dancers became more intense as Mike Denver took the stage to provide country and western music for social dancing. The first song in quickstep time saw most of Seamus Melvin’s class jiving as if they had been doing it all their lives. We had some nice waltzes and foxtrots. It’s a well known fact that set dancers are usually also good at social dancing. Could we entice more of the social dancers to take up set dancing?

Mass was celebrated in the ballroom after the big dance finished. I retreated to the Annaly bar for dinner and dancing to the music of John Davey who was accompanied by his son Nigel on the accordion and daughter Marie on violin.

The bar was packed with diners but we managed to scrape space to dance a few sets, do a bit of jiving and a few waltzes. The party was still in full flight when I departed for the ballroom in the hotel to dance to the Copperplate Ceili Band. The ceili got underway at 9pm sharp and we had a heavenly night of music and dancing. Marie Garrity was our mc. There was very little need for calling as all the dancers were confident. I counted 25 sets on the floor and the crowd remained until the ceili finished at 12am.

Sunday morning at 11am Marie Garrity began her workshop. She is a very good instructor and managed to teach seven two-hand dances in the allocated two-hour class. The dances were the Mayfair Quickstep, White Heather Foxtrot, Dinkie One-Step, Blue Danube Waltz, Palais Glide, Fiona Polka and Charleston. I counted eighty dancers having fun.

Two bands played for the ceili in the Longford Arms’ ballroom. The first on stage was Longford’s Annaly Ceili Band, and the second was Swallow’s Tail. The atmosphere in the ballroom when I finally got inside the door at 12.30am was unreal. I nearly had to pinch myself to believe the energy of the musicians and dancers. There was wall-to-wall dancing.

The queue outside the ballroom for the afternoon ceili chatted excitedly as they waited for the doors to open. It started at the scheduled time of 2.30pm. Johnny Reidy and his band were in their usual fine form and the ceili was a dream. Space was limited as the crowd was huge. I failed in my attempt to count the number of sets on the floor, but with the music and dancing so superb, who needed to count anything?

Midway through the ceili Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy made a special presentation to a retired dancer and member of their Sean-Óg Club. I was delighted when I realised that the recipient was an old good friend of mine Tomás MacRuari, from Keanagh, Co Longford. He taught set dancing locally for twenty years and was responsible for the revival of the Longford Set. His nephew Tom Skelly, the renowned banjo player who played for many years with the Glenside Ceili Band and joined the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band a year ago, presented a beautiful crystal vase with the club crest etched on it.

Sunday night’s ceili packed the ballroom in the Longford Arms once again. A lot of the dancers stayed back for the magical music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh and a brilliant night’s dancing.

The end of the Sean-Óg weekend had come all too soon. Gabrielle, Gerard and their committee gave us a most professionally organised and thoroughly enjoyable festival.

Joan Pollard Carew

Swinging into 2008

Friday 28th December, early afternoon, our small group was in Switzerland making its way from Thun station by bus to the nearby Gwatt Zentrum for the third New Year’s Eve workshop organised by Manuela Morel, Bernhard Horlacher and their team. Full of anticipation, we were looking forward to four days of good dancing, excellent music and great company.

Gwatt Zentrum is idyllically situated on the shores of Lake Thun in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, surrounded on three sides—during this time of the year—by the snow-covered Alps. The temperature was freezing but the sky was blue, the trees and bushes were covered in hoarfrost, and the weak winter sun was shining—what a welcome!

Dancers had come not only from Switzerland, but also from Germany, Ireland, England, France and even America. To warm us up on Friday afternoon, Manuela took us through the Claddagh Set which, to our delight, was later on also danced at the ceilis. Pat Murphy arrived in time that evening to lead us through the first ceili of the event. The music during that and the following evenings was played by the Swaree Ceili Band, a group of young German musicians who live, eat and breathe Irish traditional music. So it started, workshops every morning and afternoon, with a ceili each evening—what more could a set dancer ask for! Late nights were also on the agenda, as we sat around after the ceilis, chatting and catching up on the news from our friends and acquaintances. Laughs and good humoured fun were guaranteed.

On Sunday afternoon an optional trip to a nearby mountain, called Niederhorn, was organised. Although the weather was not perfect, the trip was well worth it, giving the participants the chance to enjoy the snow and mountain views, for the braver ones to toboggan downhill or just to go for a walk in the fresh mountain air. Rumour has it that some of the mountaineers even heard Swiss yodelling.

On New Year’s Eve dinner was served at the nearby hotel, and after a delicious meal we drifted across to the dance hall for the ceili. This evening there was not only dancing; we were also entertained by many of the participants doing their party pieces, including a demonstration of a traditional Swiss dance. Having Jim Monaghan among the participants, his brush dance and Jailhouse Rock could not be missed. Just before midnight we all went down to the lake to hear the old year being rung out by the church bells and to welcome the New Year. We toasted one another and there followed handshaking, hugging and kissing. The Swiss custom is to kiss their friends—in particular of the opposite sex—on the cheeks three times!

In spite of the very late night, on the following morning we had the last workshop. Before we could blink an eye, it was over and time to say goodbye. It was also time to return to the routine of everyday life, but we took with us memories of a great long weekend, good company, plenty of laughs, of volunteers who collected the food from the kitchen and of others who washed the dishes. Also, we had our scribbled notes of three new dances, the Flight of the Earls, Antrim Square Set and Limerick Tumblers, along with the Mayo Lancers, East Galway, Donegal and many others.

Off to the bus we went, tired and happy for all the great dancing and friendly atmosphere during the four days.

Geoff Nicholas, Basel, Switzerland

Drumlins in the snow

People braved snow and ice to attend the Dancing in the Drumlins weekend on 4–6 January at the Cavan Crystal Hotel in great numbers. What a sight on Friday night to see 35 sets beating the Cavan Crystal floor with joy to the rhythm of Johnny Reidy and the dreadful day that was in it.

Saturday morning got off to a great start. Ger Butler taught sets and as always some fancy footwork. He really is tuned in, always watchful to help out everyone. Kathleen McGlynn taught sean nós and her usual relaxed approach and patience made for a lot of happy sean-nósers. How lovely to see her daughter Angela and grandaughter Aideen so ably assisting her—not that she needs any help she is as fit as a fiddle. New to Dancing in the Drumlins this year was Noel Devery teaching old-style step dancing. Noel taught a lovely, lively jig and had a good turn out.

The other ceilis were equally well attended. Sweet sweet music from the Swallow’s Tail on Saturday afternoon left all relaxed and satisfied to sit out the odd set on the Saturday night when the upstairs ballroom was full to bursting and the music of the Copperplate had everyone wishing for more. Music went on till the small hours in session with Martin Donohoe, Seamus Fay and many more.

Sunday morning Marie Garrity with her two-hand dancing workshop was as popular as ever, a full floor, and upstairs there were still people with lots of energy to take in the Cavan Set under my guidance.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and what a finish! Music for the farewell ceili was by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, downstairs this time with a full floor. Lots of Clare sets were danced to great Clare music. We saw an exhibition from local Ulster Scór champions, the Drumkilly Set Dancers, all around the ripe old age of nine; some fantastic step dancing from local set dancer and Ulster under-17 step dancing champion Claire McDermot; sean nós steps from two mighty young dancers from Tyrone; and some lilting from Cavan’s own Seamus Fay. A lot of dancing time taken up there, you might think—not so. Micheál and Pat had no problem playing extra time. We even fitted in the Cavan Reel Set before finishing with, what else, the one and only Plain Clare.

A lot of happy yet sad people—sad to be leaving, that is—took off on their way home on Sunday evening, determined to be back next year for a great weekend in a fab location.

Marian Crowe

Malahide '08

There used to be a time when you could only have a feast of dancing during the summer months at the many traditional music festivals, but now the weekends in the winter have become magnets for set dance enthusiasts. It was hard work for Betty McCoy and Anne and John Grant who organised and ran a very successful weekend at the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, on January 11th to 13th. This is an annual fund raising event for cancer care and research in memory of the late Connie Ryan, who died eleven years ago. Connie was a set dance teacher who taught sets all over the world and this year dancers came from Hungary, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Holland, England, Japan and the US to take part.

It is a great time of year to embark on a weekend of dancing. It shakes off the cobwebs, it marks an end to the over indulgence of Christmas and is a good way of exercising.

And of course dance has become very fashionable with TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Jigs’ n’ Reels on our screens. Connie was perhaps the first of the set dance teachers to popularise sets but he never lost sight of the tradition of where these sets came from and always insisted on them being danced the way he had learnt them. The teachers at Malahide have carried on this tradition.

This year saw the revival of a variety of sets beginning on Friday night when Aidan Vaughan opened with a class on steps for Clare sets. He illustrated the steps by teaching the Kilrush Caledonian which he had collected from Vincent O’Halloran of that area.

The Slievenamon Ceili Band played for the ceili. This band was formed by Connie back in 1988 when he took a group to America. Box player Liam Purcell fronted the band on Friday night as he did back then. It was a great start to the weekend.

Pat Murphy gave an excellent class on Saturday morning. He taught two newly composed sets, the Flight of the Earls and the Antrim Square Set. The latter was particularly interesting. He had been given it a couple of years ago on a trip to Sydney, Australia, by its composer Des Jackson. Des’s ancestors had come from Antrim and the strong ceili influence can be seen in the set. It is quite intricate but Pat was able to simplify it and communicate it to over 32 sets that morning. The class also included some two-hand dances. Teachers, who had come to the workshop to see what Pat had recently collected, were very pleased and he urged them to get the dances into the set dance repertoire.

Saturday afternoon’s ceili heard the music of the west Clare band, the Four Courts. This was a treat as they rarely travel now to Dublin. Many musicians came into the hall just to listen to their style.

What has now become an integral part of the weekend is Mass in the hall in memory of Connie. Friends and family gather to remember him and other teachers, dancers and musicians who have died and are sadly missed.

There was just about time to grab a bite to eat, shower and get back to the bar area of the hotel for the session. Lovely music took off and it was hard to tear yourself away for the ceili where Brian Ború was playing. Box player Joe Hughes whipped his band into a great pace that was sustained for the night.

The Sunday morning classes were taught by Mairéad Casey and Mick Mulkerrin with assistance from Terry Moylan. They taught the Limerick Tumblers which Terry had composed in 1996 to accompany music by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. Rather than a ceili dance it is a set dance rooted in the Sliabh Luchra tradition. Terry chose to use the music of Johnny Leary and it worked very well. He generously printed out full instructions of the set and hopes it will be danced at ceilis.

The finale was with Matt Cunningham and he did not disappoint. He played at a lovely dancing pace all afternoon.

It was great to be at so many ceilis where the sets were danced in a traditional manner and there was no dilution of the tradition. Eileen Doherty as mc kept a watchful eye on proceedings, adding a sense of fun with her sharp wit and humour.

“It was a weekend that was genetically unmodified with no artificial additives or antics,” laughed Aidan Vaughan, as he, after drumming with three bands over the weekend, headed home to Miltown Malbay.

The Grand Hotel is a lovely comfortable venue. The staff, under the alert guidance of Betty McCoy, were helpful offering jugs of water whenever needed. Tired but happy dancers were already talking about next January.

Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow

Carlow wren

Letters and emails

Hi Bill,

This year we had a ‘launch’ of our wren in a Carlow shopping centre on the Sunday before Christmas and this went a treat. We danced the second figure of the Sliabh Fraoch Set about ten times and collected money for a new hospice for Carlow Town. The Ballyvourney Jig was another favourite.

We had a core set dancing group of about ten and many other dancers joined us for a set or two. The dancers came from the many set dancing groups that are set up in the county. Music was supplied by Danny Webster, Jack Byrne and Leslie Dunne.

On St Stephen’s Day we visited several hospitals in Carlow and then followed the dreolin (wren) all the way to the beautiful village of Leighlinbridge. As a venue of one of Carlow’s many set dancing groups we received a fantastic welcome. The weather was perfect so we were able to dance a few sets at the bridge over the Barrow River which is overlooked by ruins of Leighlinbridge Castle.

Later in the afternoon the group headed back into Carlow Town and did a tour of some of the Taverns. That still did not finish our St Stephen’s Day. At nine-thirty that night we were in Bennekerry clubhouse for a ceili with the Brian Ború Ceili Band.

The revival of the tradition of the wren in County Carlow is here to stay.

Máire George, Ballon, Co Carlow

The metaphor for life

Dear Bill

Just a note on the article about the Galway Bay weekend written by Andrea Forstner, regarding the song Galway Bay sung by the “Dublin” woman. It was in fact sung by myself, from Drogheda, Co Louth. Tony needed a little helping hand.

One of the best parts of the weekend, apart from the excellent workshops and ceilis, was the session in the lobby on Saturday night which went on till all hours. We sang, danced, listened to storytelling by Séamus Ó Méalóid and John Joe Geraghty, both in Irish and English. Nobody wanted to go to bed. People were so friendly and it was great to hear Irish spoken everywhere. There were a lot of people there from the islands, so it was unusual in a lot of ways, not least having three tutors with three contrasting personalities and teaching styles. There were only two of us there representing Drogheda but I hope we will have a larger contingent next year.

Dance is the metaphor for life, an ancient choreography moving with the music and storytelling. It is the centre. It brings the music to life and feeds the soul. It is our native music. It stirs something within us which calls to us from the past, from across the ages. People from other lands may dance the dances and play the music, but it will never stir in them this ancient calling uniting us with our past, with our forebears who handed this on to us, through times of suffering, persecution, hope and dispair. They brought it to lands far and wide and never lost it. We are honoured to have such a treasure and I hope we will treasure it forever, for it is unique.

Helen Segrave, Drogheda, Co Louth

Thanks from Galway Bay

Dear Bill,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who made the Galway Bay Set Dancing Festival so successful. Also to Pat Murphy and Séamus Ó Méalóid for their fine set instruction and good humour, and to my son Ken Ryan for his relaxation and light yoga classes.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Ryan, Galway

Showers before the year is out

Hi Bill,

We had a wonderful ceili with the beautiful music of the Four Courts on November 25th in Abbey Hall, Clarecastle, Co Clare, and please God the people in Kylb Asylum will have showers before the year is out. This is one of many of Burren Chernobyl Projects and the one I chose to fund raise for this year. Many thanks for your support and a big thank you to all who danced and donated on the day.

God bless,

Bernadette Daniels, Clarecastle, Co Clare

The Torino fun


Thank you for passing along contacts for set dancing in Italia. We used those contacts to locate dance venues along our six-week journey across northern Italy. Patrizie and Massimo, provided information about a dance north of Venezie; unfortunately, we missed meeting them at the dance but we did meet and dance with them in Torino. Our friend Silvestre “Silver” Torre, Flora and Mario Sarzotti and others scheduled the Torino ceili on one of the nights we were there. We had a grand time.

Silver Torre met us several years ago when he joined our dance class in Ohio. He had some Irish dance experience and wanted to continue with the fun. We didn’t know any italiano and Silver didn’t know much inglese. We had a fine time, however, with the universal dance language. That same theme was passed to us by one of the ladies at the ceili in Torino. We neither knew the other’s language very well but she said we could really communicate through the dancing.

We’ve included a snapshot from the Torino fun. I don’t recall seeing better “turn the lady” action during the Newmarket Set of Meserts. Flora handled the walk-throughs and calling very well.

Larry and Lenette Taylor, Stow, Ohio, USA

In our thoughts on the night

Hello Bill,

Wishing you a very happy New Year. I took a picture at our ceili in the Rainbow Centre, Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, on the 8th December which I am forwarding to you for the Set Dancing News if space is available.

Our ceili was a great success this year. It was lovely to see so many people coming out to our ceili as Eamon McKeaney was very much in our thoughts on the night.

Thank you for including the tribute to Eamon in last edition of the Set Dancing News.

I enjoy reading it.

Thank you,

Kathleen Keaney, Blacklion, Co Cavan

Maureen’s memorial ceili

Dear Bill,

Just a wee note to say a big thank you to all the dancers and friends of the late Maureeen Boylan who supported her memorial ceili last November in Mell, Co Louth. The night was a great success and €1,000 was raised for the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre which is providing great care and help to the people of Drogheda and the surrounding area. Davey Joe and Carousel played great music on the night and Father Martin Kenny read a lovely Mass beforehand.

Many thanks to all, Bill.

On behalf of Maureen’s friends, yours,

Shay and Mai White, Staleen Donore, Co Meath

As clear as crystal

Hi Bill,

I just had to write to you, as I am filled with energy. I have just returned this evening from my first experience, and certainly not my last, of attending the afternoon ceili in the Templemore Arms Hotel, Templemore, Co Tipperary, run by Joan Pollard Carew and Danny Webster. What an evening! Joan was absolutely marvellous at calling the sets, as clear as crystal with the minimum amount of rambling on. She knew the crowd and called only the sets that she thought we might need assistance with.

It was lovely to attend a ceili where an unfamiliar set was called. I had never danced or seen the Ballyduff Set before, but Joan took us through the whole thing without a hitch. It was lovely as well the way Joan very effectively pointed out the correct way to dance certain parts of the figure, without making anyone feel they were wrong.

The atmosphere in the place was so welcoming and a lovely friendly crowd. I was amazed to see so many men. It is the first time I have been to a ceili where every woman was dancing with a man.

Long may the Sunday afternoon ceili in Templemore continue.

Marian McCormack, Dublin 16

What we are all about

Hi Bill,

Irish Set Dancing in Zagreb and Croatia continues to go from strength to strength. Presently we have 95 active dancers ranging in age from 16 to a gentle 50. With St Patrick’s approaching again, Irish Maiden (the name of the troupe here) will be leading the charge at the large open air festival held in the city centre over the last few years.

Having said all that, perhaps the highlight of the last few months has been our Christmas party where we took on the challenge of teaching ceili dancing to young people with special needs. Armed with a couple of basic combinations we got everybody started in a big circle, a set dancer paired with every young person, and within no time had progressed without difficulty to the Walls of Limerick and Siege of Ennis. It was a very special afternoon for all those involved and I think it really brought home what we are all about: sharing these wonderful dances with those who have never experienced such things and especially to those who are rarely afforded the opportunity to dance at all.

To all our friends and those that support us in Ireland we wish you a wonderful St Patrick’s Day.

Paul O'Grady and the Croatian set dancers

Copperplate in London

Hello Bill,

Could you please say a big thank you to all the people who supported our three ceilis in London?

We had many people travel from Ireland, Belguim and all over the UK. We had a fantastic weekend of music and dancing with the Copperplate Ceili Band.

Moira Dempsey and Margaret Morrin, London

Eddie Moynihan

One of the happiest dancers you’d ever meet, that was Eddie Moynihan. He was out most nights of the week at a ceili or a class, usually around the Dublin area, but if he fancied dancing somewhere down the country, he was off without a moment’s hesitation! I encountered him in Cork or Mayo or Belfast over the years, and would always meet him when I found myself in Dublin. A couple of times I even ran into him in Dublin Airport, en route to or from a sun holiday with his wife Bridget.

Eddie, originally from Co Cork, was a retired builder and Bridget from Co Limerick operates a lovely B&B in Drumcondra, Dublin 9. About six years ago I was stranded in Dublin without a car and went looking for a room in a B&B I stayed in once before, but they were full. So I went across the street to another place and when the door opened there were Eddie and I looking at each other. I thought he looked familiar and he knew me, but it wasn’t until after he showed me my room that we accepted the coincidence and started the set dancing talk. After that it was the only place to stay when I visited the area. From him I’d learn all the latest Dublin news and all the local venues I should visit. He’d usually bring me with him to the ceilis, introduce me to his friends and share his lovely partners. We’d go back to the house afterward for more tea and chat, which was repeated at a late breakfast next morning. I had trouble getting him and Bridget to accept my B&B money, so generous were they.

On Thursday afternoon, January 10th, Eddie was at home with a friend when he suddenly passed away. His funeral was on the following Monday at Corpus Christi Church just around the corner from his house. Any of us that knew Eddie will miss his easygoing cheerfulness and kindness—he’s someone you’d never want to forget.

Bill Lynch

Articles continue in Old News Volume 44.

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

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